When Ben and Jenna got married, they both had a thriving community of friends and family around them. Then, a few months into their marriage, Jenna unexpectedly got offered an incredible job promotion. Along with a significant salary increase, this promotion also meant that the two would need to relocate from California to New Jersey. Ben worked remotely, so aside from leaving friends and family, the move seemed like a great opportunity. As they packed up their small, one-bedroom apartment, they laughed and daydreamed together about the new and exciting adventures they would have as a couple.
But three months after they settled in New Jersey, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and everything began to change.
They saw their world move from “let’s build relationships” to “let’s lock ourselves inside.” They were unable to attend church, and watching the service online didn’t help them build any relationships. They couldn’t go to work in person. And they couldn’t even fly home to see family. Ben’s dad had recently completed chemotherapy treatments, and they didn’t want to risk him getting sick. But at least Ben and Jenna had each other.
The situation seemed like a good one at first. They started a few hobbies, perfected their sourdough starter, and played most every two-person board game that Amazon had to offer. They joined TikTok. Quit TikTok. And caught up on all their favorite television shows.
However, after a few months, Ben and Jenna found themselves facing both COVID-19 and adjusting to married life—at the same time.
With the strict lockdown policies in New Jersey, they were unable to leave their apartment other than for brief trips to the grocery store and maybe a quick early-morning run. Except for those brief breaks, they were together all the time. And that’s when their differences really began to surface.
I won’t go into all the studies that reveal how destructive the COVID-19 lockdowns and the resulting isolation were to relationships. You’ve likely heard about many of these consequences, particularly for children and the elderly. But youngish people like Ben and Jenna have suffered severe consequences as well. Here are just a few highlights (lowlights?) from the news.
A Forbes article titled “The High Cost of Loneliness: The Other Price Older Americans Are Paying for COVID-19” revealed the incredible number of older people who, through isolation, have experienced severe physical and mental breakdowns. A broader-focused (but no less chilling) exposé at the Wall Street Journal (“What COVID-19 Taught Us about the High Cost of Isolation”) showed the mental devastation of older age groups due to the lockdowns. You’ll find another disheartening read in Harvard Magazine’s “The Loneliness Pandemic,” an article that details how every age group, children included, has suffered from a lack of connection during the pandemic.
Going back to Ben and Jenna.
Even as restrictions began to lift, the only social groups they could find were all still virtual. And Zoom meetings just weren’t working while they still struggled to meet people and make new friends. As they were trying to deal with the anxiety and fear of the unknown around them, Ben lost his job. They had been counting on his income, and the immediate financial stress quickly became relational stress as well. Soon they weren’t fighting only about small things but about pretty much everything.
“At first I thought that having it just be us meant that we would get to skip some of the struggles that other couples have faced in their first year of marriage,” Jenna explained. “But with only each other and no friends or family nearby, it created an unhealthy dynamic in our marriage. I was expecting Ben to take the place of my parents, my sisters, my friends, and all my other social outlets combined. And Ben was expecting me to do the same. Not only that, but we both began to look at each other as our sole source of happiness and connection—something that we were never designed to be to one another.”
While the pandemic and the move across the country played a big part in heightening these issues for Ben and Jenna, the “be my everything” expectation has been attacking marriages since long before the pandemic began shutting down everyone’s relational outlets. While it’s easy to blame the Hallmark Channel, romance novels, or inflation—it’s tempting to blame everything on that, I think—the truth is that God created us all for connection, but we are living in a society that is more disconnected than ever before.
Loneliness impacts our society in many profound ways.
Anxiety. Anger. Depression.
But within a marriage, the impact is different. As married couples, we generally have a greater expectation of love and connection, but at the same time, the number of other close relationships we have tends to decrease. This puts extra relational pressure on the marriage.
That means many of us are like Ben and Jenna. We are not only looking for love but also expecting our spouse to be our parent, sibling, best friend, coworker, counselor, fitness instructor, mentor, grandparent, and more. These heightened expectations can set us up for disappointment—and even disaster if we aren’t careful. Like Jenna shared above, our spouse was never created to be the sole provider for all our emotional and relational needs. That’s too much pressure to put on our spouse, especially when they are going to fall short.
To alleviate that burden, we need to intentionally be part of a community. How do you do that, especially in a world that is as isolated and disconnected as ours?
Kari Trent Stageberg, MBA, is an author, speaker, and Certified Master Coach and Trainer who serves as the CEO of StrongFamilies. A survivor of domestic violence, Kari’s goal is to help individuals and couples find hope, find freedom, and experience The Blessing through Christ, both as individuals and in their most important relationships. When she isn’t working, she spends her time enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her amazing husband, Joey, and their two young sons, Lincoln and Benton.
Adapted from The Merge for Marriage by Kari Trent Stageberg. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.
Howard Gleckman, “The High Cost of Loneliness: The Other Price Older Americans Are Paying for COVID-19,” Forbes, March 25, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/howardgleckman/2021/03/25/the-high -cost-of-loneliness-the-other-price-older-adults-are-paying-for-covid-19.
Marc Agronin, “What COVID-19 Taught Us about the High Cost of Isolation,” Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles /covid-19-isolation-11618005941.
Jacob Sweet, “The Loneliness Pandemic: The Psychology and Social Costs of Isolation in Everyday Life,” Harvard Magazine, January–February 2021, https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2021/01/feature-the-loneliness-pandemic.