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General Conference

Maintaining Relationships During COVID-19

ANN In-Depth talks to Willie and Elaine Oliver about Marriage and Relationships in Quarantine

Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Nicole Dominguez

One year. We are more than one year into when one of the most catastrophic global events hit our generation. There are many side effects to Covid, however the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not prepare us for certain side effects. In a time when our hours blur into days and days into months, you lose track of time itself. You forget what it was like wearing pants or dressing in complete outfits and not just waist up for those endless Zoom calls that could have definitely been an email. In these moments when it feels like we’re living apocalypse bingo where every week a new event occurs, it’s easy to check out mentally. In order to cope, we can fall into autopilot, returning to or creating coping mechanisms that help us endure uncertainty. The effects of this shift can also affect our relationships. After living routines that allowed separation from our partners, roommates, children, or siblings for hours at a time, we have had to adjust to 24/7 interaction with our loved ones. Suddenly we begin to notice things that we never would have noticed about our partners otherwise. Asking questions like “did my husband always load the dishwasher like that?” or “why are there so many snacks on her work table?” or “how many times can one person reheat a cup of tea?”. When you begin to feel like you’re living in an incubator, it's easy to lose grace. We can forget to extend mercy to one's partners, family, or friends and fail to remember that they are human. 

When the little irritations become macroscopic hurdles that threaten equilibrium, it's time to take a breath, and remember why you love them. While living in a time when we must all be in each other's space for long periods, we can begin to overcorrect by shutting off from our loved ones, cornering ourselves in our own fears, doubts, and irritations. But this can be detrimental. As mentioned, isolating physically and emotionally, can mean falling back into addictions and coping mechanisms that harm not only ourselves but our relationships. Such coping mechanisms are not exclusive to the heavy hitters of drugs alcohol and pornography, but can be over eating, increased screen time, excessive exercising, over working and others that make us unable to maintain relationships. For anyone who is living with another person(s), it’s important to take the time to look outside yourself and check in. At this point, we must apply the golden rule of Luke 6:31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. In the same way that we would want to have a safe space to be vulnerable with your partner to share our fears and doubts, we must extend that space to the other person. By maintaining productive vulnerability, we can hear our partners' concerns, remove the doubts that we are the only one experiencing a trial, and move toward a solution together.

Adventist Church Family Ministries directors Willie and Elaine Oliver, diagnose the strain of maintaining relationships and regression into coping mechanisms as a result of “mourning the loss of stability”. Yet in this abundance of time lies an opportunity of growth. In lockdown, we are given opportunities to grow in our relationships by faithfully and consistently choosing to connect with those around us. As Dr. Alaina Baltazar, director of the MSW program in the Social Work Department at Andrews University points out, this is a time for connecting to our loved ones in a new way. 

So how can this be done? Willie and Elaine Oliver shared that they have made a point to choose a fruit of the spirit to live out for that day. It is a way to choose a perspective through which the everyday irritations can be viewed. Not only this, but by living each day with intentionality it keeps ourselves accountable, preventing the backslide into addictions and harmful coping mechanisms. When we remove ourselves from our mental isolation, we are allowing ourselves to think of the people we coexist with not as individuals disrupting our peace or coping mechanisms, but as complex individuals with their own fears and hopes. 

By embracing vulnerability, we can grow closer to our loved ones through extending grace to them and ourselves. In our pursuit of using the lockdown as a time for improvement, we must remember our humanity. Learning to be vulnerable and living by grace is a process. We won’t always know the best ways to connect with our kids, or how to communicate your problems to our spouse. That's okay. God created us to be diverse and unique with individualistic natures. When it comes to growth, there will always be trial and error. Yes, there will be days when it feels like an uphill battle, but there will also be days when you glide. Through it all, we must lean on God, praying for insight, guidance, and patience as we move forward.