My marriage was sick and dying long before the pandemic arrived.
On Valentine’s Day 2020, my husband and I called it quits. He packed his bags and left. I poured myself a glass of wine and stared emotionless at his empty side of our clothes closet. I had announced our separation to my parents and cried over my failed marriage. I had hinted to our five children about a looming divorce by telling them, “Things are a hard for mom and dad right now so we are taking some time apart.” I had told my therapist that I was planning on starting a new chapter in my life. I had sat a hotel bar watching the news of a rapidly spreading virus overseas while holding the hand of a man with whom I was having an affair. By that time, I figured my marriage was fractured beyond repair. So, I sipped my Manhattan and planned for a life without my husband.
Then COVID-19 entered the U.S.
As a precaution, my husband and I agreed that he should come back home, with the understanding that he would sleep in one of the unoccupied bedrooms in the basement. We set up invisible parameters, avoiding one another during daytime hours but gathering for brief family dinners to maintain a sense of stability for the kids. We sat at opposite sides of the dinner table and exchanged few words. We didn’t kiss each other goodnight but returned to our individual bedrooms, him in the basement and myself in the master bedroom. I bathed in my solitude, soaking up control of the TV remote and texting the new man in my life until the early morning hours.
Social distancing had become a regular habit between my husband and me long before any official orders were put into place.
Then stay-at-home orders took effect. Jobs closed. Colleges shut down. Classrooms were emptied. Our adult and college-aged children trickled back home one at a time. To make room for everyone, I reluctantly gave up my personal space and agreed that my husband could share the bed with me. His clothes returned to their original place in our bedroom closet. The bedcovers blanketed the two of us at night. We still managed to keep our distance though, a safe six feet from one another in the fortunate expanse of our king-sized bed.
I lay awake late one night and stared at my husband’s back while he slept, trying to pinpoint when our relationship had taken a turn for the worse. Maybe it happened when I discovered I was pregnant only a few years after falling in love during our senior year of high school. Maybe it happened when we decided to place that child up for adoption and I was left with a bucket of guilt and shame to deal with alone.
Maybe our relationship fell apart later, when we started having one child after the next, and I threw all my energy into motherhood while he rapidly climbed the corporate ladder. Maybe it happened when we agreed to adopt our fourth child, and feelings of overwhelm took its toll. Or maybe our relationship cracked under the pressure of re-adopting our birth daughter when she turned eighteen because of a fractured relationship with her adoptive parents.
Regardless, stress replaced our affection for one another. The passion in our marriage had not only disappeared, it had been stomped on, beaten, and kicked to the curb. There was nothing that could be done to resuscitate it. I was spent. With my husband in my bed, clutching his pillow instead of me, I just felt alone.
To my surprise, our marriage began to mend with far more subtlety than the drama unfolding with a rising pandemic. As my husband was forced to work from home, I realized there was nowhere I could escape and no one I could escape to. In the beginning, I missed the sound of my husband’s car keys jingling as he’d leave for work. I sighed with resignation as I made an effort to include him in my home life. When I made morning coffee, I reluctantly poured him a cup too. When I went out for an afternoon jog, he joined me. When I made lunch, I offered him a bite to eat. When it was happy hour, we both reached for a bottle of wine and clinked our glasses. At night, we lay together in bed and binge-watched Breaking Bad. Slowly, I began to count on these small but significant moments together.
Conversation opened. Our hands intertwined. The arguing subsided. Our friendship renewed. And soon enough, my husband and I began to resemble a team again. It felt like us against the rest of the world. Quarantine became our saving grace.
I don’t know if there’s a happy ending in store for the two of us. I can’t say if our marriage will survive after the pandemic. All I know is that relationships can be mended in the wildest of times. Glimpses of hope can be found in the middle of terrible circumstances.
For now, a divorce lawyer hasn’t shown up on our doorstep. And maybe, just maybe, one never will. Only time will tell.