David and I have been based at home for a number of years after David took early retirement. They have been busy years, where the focus has been on pursuing our callings in a number of directions rather than earning money. So when lockdown came, life didn’t change as much as it did for many others. Yes, we missed getting out for face to face meetings and seeing the children and grandchildren. But we were content sharing the space of our home together.
After 40 years of marriage, fortunately celebrated in 2019 when travel and eating out was still possible, you might think that we knew each other well. However we have found that each new stage of life brings fresh challenges and new insights as we respond to those challenges. Facing a pandemic together has been no exception. David threw himself into the demands of managing a counselling charity and a youth charity that both had to find ways to operate on line. He also found himself with the responsibility for our church centre managing access and dealing with disappointed hirers. His hours were filled. Liz on the other hand found herself frozen with apprehension at what was unfolding and desperately missing the family.
I (Liz) wanted to control life in some way and found myself fulfilling this by arranging food deliveries to avoid going out, and sorting out menus and food planning that left David with little choice about what we ate. When I rejected his offer to go down to the local shop to buy a missing ingredient one day, an argument began. I took it as personal criticism of my planning. In fact I didn’t want him going out and putting himself at risk. It took us a few days to unpack what was going on. I hadn’t realised how important it was to me to know there was one area of life I could control, when the rest of life seemed overwhelmed by uncertainty. David was only just beginning to grasp how anxious and unhappy I had been feeling as he was absorbed in all the jobs he had to do.
This issue helped us to open up more about how we were feeling and to find new ways to support each other. I found it quite freeing to recognise how I was behaving to manage my anxiety and David in his gentle loving way took more time to listen to me and encourage me. What could have degenerated into tension and withdrawing from each other became instead an opportunity for us to grow closer.
David now values my organisational abilities and the yummy meals that appear. Our diet has improved a great deal as I spend more time thinking through new recipes or ingredients and David takes the time to contribute his thoughts and ideas. I have been able to view his busyness differently, appreciating his creativity, thoughtfulness and practicality in tackling changing circumstances. He likes a challenge and working out a way through it.
In our role with the charity Anglican Marriage Encounter, we’ve had a number of sessions with our volunteers to encourage them as we’ve gone through lockdown and that has set us thinking. One session we set up encouraged the couples to think about what they had learned through lockdown to appreciate more about each other.
As we prepared for this, it was fun to reflect on something so positive. I (Liz) looked back and recognised how much I had valued David’s ability to assess risk and to put things into context. I am very risk averse and tend to get anxious when difficult decisions are needed. David is used to weighing up the risks and keeping them in perspective, something that I struggle to do. He is more adventurous and more able to see the possibilities in a situation than I can. Talking decisions through with David helps me to see them more clearly. When lockdown was eased over the summer there were lots of steps where we had to decide when and how we would see our family. David’s calm assessment of what the dangers were, and what was involved, helped me to relax and see a sensible wise way forward. I appreciate his calm assessment of the situation and his patience in talking things through with me. It’s like he adjusts the focus on a TV set and everything becomes sharp and clear.
One of the things I (David) have learned to value most about Liz is her ability to relate to the grandchildren remotely through Skype and Zoom. Prior to the pandemic my relationship with them was based on fun physical activities – we’d play in the garden, they’d bounce on Grandad on the sofa (!), or I’d sit and do Lego with the older ones etc. All the things we could no longer do as lockdown came. I was so impressed by Liz’s ability to do online cookery, and even online gardening, and to read stories etc as the younger ones had their tea – her quiet persistence and love really touched my heart, bringing a warm glow of deep affection as I watched their rapt faces just enjoying being online with her.
By learning to identify and acknowledge the positives we saw in each other, we were able to support and love each other through the difficult times. When David shared his appreciation of my way of relating to the grandchildren I felt encouraged and built up. I could see the value of what I had been doing even when it was sometimes a struggle to relate to the younger ones.
What have you grown to appreciate more in each other during the pandemic? Make sure you tell each other!