If you look up the definition of a midlife crisis, you’ll find it’s defined as an emotional crisis that hits people somewhere in midlife, where you question identity and self-worth, wondering what’s next in life. Is this all there is? How did I get here? Shouldn’t I have more? It’s an existential crisis where we question everything; we want purpose, meaning, and value, and we’re not quite sure if we have that in our lives.

Now let’s throw in the coronavirus. Suddenly, everything has changed.

Even if you kept your job, chances are you’re working from home.

If you’re essential, you’re putting yourself in harm’s way, every day. What for?

Those four walls you’ve loved forever suddenly close in on you.

Your stock portfolio might have taken a hit. Your retirement account might be smaller than ever.

Your kids might have moved back home. A job in their future? Maybe … or not.

That’s why it was no surprise when this popped up in my newsfeed:

Coronavirus is making couples sick … of each other

The article starts:

Cooped-up New Yorkers are flooding lawyer phone lines with divorce inquiries — with an avalanche of filings expected once the courts reopen.

I guarantee you it’s not just a New York thing. Any time two people are thrust in a situation together where it’s chaos at best, tempers flare. And if you didn’t have a strong relationship to begin with, how can you ever expect your marriage to survive?

Welcome to Groundhogs Day

Yesterday was like the day before. Tomorrow will be like today. There’s no change. No differences. Nothing to look forward to.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to create something to look forward to.

Imagine being stuck in a room with nothing in it. Just you, the walls, and the floor. No digital devices. No television. No books. No window. Nothing. Sounds impossible to survive even two hours. No wonder you’ve been going crazy after two months, right?

Yet this isn’t something new, something people haven’t experienced before. Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison without giving up hope. John McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for five and a half years before being released.

We’re capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. But you have to lose the core belief running rampant all around you. You have to let go of the “good” or “bad” beliefs that a situation currently has.

Because every situation can be looked at through “good” and “bad eyes.

It just is.

It’s all in your approach.

Your first task – Do you still love your partner?

I’m the explosive one in my marriage. If something sets me off, my husband knows it. I’m the one who can get extremely emotional. I’m the one who makes passionate pleas to make sense of a situation. I’m the talker, the arguer, the one who has miles of conversation and debate around any topic.

At one point in our marriage, we didn’t see eye to eye. Days – weeks – went by, and all we did was argue. I left for a day and went to a coffee shop, thinking. And at the end of the day, I went home. Because at the end of the day, I knew our relationship wasn’t over. I couldn’t imagine life without him. So no matter what, I was willing to put in the time to make it work.

That’s a soul-searching question for everyone in a relationship.

Are you in love enough to make it work?

Do you care enough to put in the time?

Does the relationship still matter?

And if it does, you have to give it priority.

It becomes about you, not about them

I wish he loved me more.
I wish we talked more.
I wish he looked at me like he used to.
I wish we’d spend more time together and love it.

Have you found yourself thinking any of these things?

Stop.

You can only change one person in this world. That one person is you.

No matter how frustrating your partner seems to be, no matter what you wish they’d do differently, they won’t.

Unless you change first.

So change.

Be the person that deserves more love. Be the person that is enjoyable to talk to. Be the person that has love in her eyes. Be the person you’d like to spend time with.

That all starts with working on you.

When I was furthest apart from my husband, it wasn’t because of anything he did. It was my reaction to the things he did. That took me a long time to figure out.

Slowly, I started making changes to me. I wasn’t healthy. I ate all kinds of crap. My skin wasn’t clear. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t feel good about me.

But then I signed up to run a triathlon. (I know, I always go a little overboard with things. I couldn’t just join a gym; I had to sign up for a triathlon!) 🙂

Just that one thing got me out. I started to feel better about the way I looked, how I felt, and how I felt about the world.

The happier I was about myself, the more I put that side of me out there. I approached every situation differently, including my conversations with my husband.

Right now, we make time for us as a couple

The first step back to one another is realizing you both want to continue in the relationship. That has to be your starting point. It has to be your ground zero.

But once you establish that, then it’s time for a two-step process.

1. Each of you needs time and energy to make you better as an individual.
2. Each of you needs to commit time to make you a better couple.

Even now, we have “date” time. We don’t really call it that, but we’ve migrated towards time we spend alone, together. Our twenty-five-year-old daughter lives with us at the moment in a tiny place. And as much as I love having her here with us, it still can get rather crazy with three grown adults trying to live twenty-four hours a day.

As a couple, we do our daily walks together. We stop and take in the scenery while we talk about our days. What we’re thinking. What we’re feeling. Our fears. Our hopes and dreams.

We don’t discount what either of us is thinking or feeling. We talk it out instead. Even when things are going well, it’s okay to be scared. On the bad days, we help bring each other back from our lows.

Get deep – who do you want to be? What do you want together?

We had big plans. We had a calendar up, marking off the days to our “new life.” And after all this, it might not be possible to live our “new life” ever again.

After the initial shock of coming to terms with that, we’ve started dreaming again. Given everything that’s happened in 2020, what do we want next?

Pre-COVID-19, we loved to hike and had a few favorite day trips if we weren’t out traveling in a bigger way. One of our favorites is 90 miles from Portland, just north of Cannon Beach. We meander through trees and forest before entering a beach that is quite often empty. Unless it’s low tide, the only way to access it is via this hike, and most people aren’t aware of it or willing to put in the time. We combine this with lunch at our favorite brewery, and dinner at our favorite restaurant. It’s one of the best ways we spend a day if we’re not out traveling somewhere else.

We can’t do our beloved hike as the beaches have been closed. But that hasn’t stopped our drives. We wind through the hills just south of us, taking in the beautify of Oregon’s wineries. Right now, here in springtime, it’s gorgeous out there! So we drive with the sunroof open, talking about our future.

We let each other go deep on whatever topics we choose. It’s our safety zone, where we can vent, dream, and plan, even if they’re such crazy dreams we know they will never happen. It’s rebuilding our life, because the old world is gone forever. And we need to make our new world the best it can be.

Acknowledgment

Acknowledgment. We all need it. Yet it’s easy to forget that it’s a two-way street.

You want to be heard. You want them to listen. So give it first.

Try this. Sit down and listen. Don’t go into it with an agenda. Leave your “yeah, but” at the door. Don’t wait for the perfect break, and then dive in with your complaints. Instead, do it all for your partner.

Listen. Hear. Say it. “I hear you” does a lot. Then go the extra distance and find a way to take action on what you learn. What can you do to acknowledge you’ve heard?

Marriage will always be about compromise. Always.

When you lose that, that’s when the trouble begins.

Play

Right after the holidays, as we were putting our decorations away, we decided to change things up a bit. I put away a few old photos we’d had up for years, and chose to print three selfies and frame them instead. Three selfies – one taken by each of us, from our unique perspective.

And what I love about them is our personality shines through in all three.

This is how we play as a family. Because we started it almost thirty-three years ago when the two of us married.

I’ve never forgotten those two young kids who had no idea what life was going to bring.

I also know we play in much the same way we did way back then.

We lost it for a while …

But once we got it back, it’s my most treasured thing.

The one thing we’ll have every day of our lives together.

I don’t take it for granted.

I treasure it.

It’s my everything …