Marriage in the time of coronavirus

I’m sharing this terrific article by Jennifer Senior in today’s NY Times on negotiating issues around the coronavirus and how this process exposes the inevitable “power struggle”  inherent in relationships.

The author’s summation, “remember, you both are right,”  lays bare this dynamic, and she shares some spot on advice.

Senior goes to noted couples therapist Esther Perel for her take on the situation:

“If you polarize and you think that there’s only one way to do things,” she said, “it’s fake certainty. The whole point is that you’re discovering it along the way.”

Indeed, discovering it together along the way – becoming collaborative, learning when to surrender – these are the often illusive, and yet, very necessary relational skills.

Navigating  this power struggle creates intimacy, a sense of mastery, and helps couples move forward together.  In my work with couples, this forward momentum  fosters a sense of mastery and attachment between partners.  It also creates a sense of continuity as they mover through the life cycle together, facing the inevitable crises that will come their way.

Perel breaks down the particulars of this coronavirus power struggle:


How partners approach information in moments of crisis. One may binge; the other has a defined sense of when enough is enough, and turns off the tube.

How consumed partners become by an emergency. One may be preoccupied with risk; the other may focus more on maintaining the rhythms of a normal life.

How partners move through the world when disaster strikes. One takes a structured, purposeful, proactive approach; the other is more passive and fatalistic.


I hope you find this helpful as you and your partner navigate these times.  They do require decisive action.  What kind of action that is, well, is up to you to negotiate.  

More than ever,  I urge you to turn to extended family and community for ongoing connection and support.  We must find ways to stay connected to each other when being together is just not an option.  These days, I’ve been reading more about collective resilience, defined as

groups of traumatized people whose old communities have been destroyed and who are learning to survive in a new world, where community may be non-existent, new or emerging, or multiple”

As a therapist, I have been compelled to employ new ways to see couples and families in the time of coronavirus.  I’m becoming adept at ZOOM, and find myself more longing of Facetime hangouts with friends and colleagues.  These ways of being together, so natural and ubiquitous to my adult children, are being deployed by those who, like me, have resisted.  For me, it is an emerging way of being connected, and I regret minimizing the importance of online attachments as a normative way of being in relationship.  Our well being depends on that now.

In turning to our virtual communities, we can look outside of our partnerships for gathering, comfort, and much needed perspective.  It is a season to reestablish old bonds and create new ones; to have long Facetime conversations into the night as we huddle together in new ways.

I think I’ll take my own advice and schedule our first virtual dinner party right now.

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About Me

About Me

Dr. Hudak is dedicated to bringing research about the family into public discourses, weaving together the private stories that portray the often hidden cultural landscapes of our time. She is a popular speaker with both professional and lay audiences, addressing topics pertaining to relationships and the family life cycle.