Co-parenting with someone that you don’t necessarily like is difficult under normal conditions. Add in the stress of a pandemic (BIG WHAMMY) and it may require the coping skills of a saint!
While celebrities like Gwen Stefani and her ex-husband Gavin Rossdale have been reported to be handling this situation pretty well, it made me think… what about those who are still living under the same roof!?!
Even though Demi Moore and Bruce Willis make it look pretty cool to hang with their kids as a divorced couple in their “social media quarantine” pictures, what about those who aren’t officially divorced yet?
TRIPLE FREAKING WHAMMY!!
We often think of co-parents as divorced people with kids, and forget about the couples who no longer act or feel like husband and wife, but don’t have the legal documentation yet.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a few women about how they were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.
While they are all still legally married, they feel more like co-parents than husband and wife.
Patience isn’t limitless, but the love for their children is, and thus they are doing the very best they can living with their “possibly soon-to-be-ex”.
Take a look at the real life, yet unique, experiences of 3 different women to learn how they are handling these very unexpected circumstances.
Note: Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals and their families.
All of the women answered similar questions. Answers/stories were summarized for brevity.
Waiting for COVID-19 to End
Meet “Patient Patricia”
Patricia’s husband informed her some time ago that he wanted to file for divorce. They’ve been married for over 15 years and have two young kids under the age 12. Neither Patrica nor her husband have actually filed for divorce, and COVID-19 has only slowed down the potential for that to happen.
She admits that initially, when her husband first told her that he wanted to file for divorce, that she was in denial, and wanted to try to figure out a way to make it work.
They also made a conscious decision not to tell the kids. Fast forward to life under a stay at home order, and things have become a bit more interesting.
Patricia has been busy working a demanding job while still trying to provide a sense of normalcy at home.
Speaking of normalcy, the kids still don’t know about the impending divorce, so Patricia, along with her husband, spend a lot of time pretending that everything is ok. This includes family dinners and other “in-house” activities with the kids.
As you can imagine, having to pretend that you’re still one big happy “normal” family, while you are sleeping next to someone that you know will likely file for divorce, brings a level of emotional stress that can be difficult to manage even without COVID-19.
Nikki: On a scale of 1-10, 1 being bad and 10 being great, how would you rate your level of amiability under the current circumstances?
Patricia: Hmmm, I would rate it a 9.
Nikki: Wow! That’s great, all things considered. Do you have any tips on how you’ve been able to achieve such an amicable relationship?
Patricia: Honestly being empathetic has helped. I’m not saying it’s easy, but treating someone how I like to be treated goes a long way. I also try to be understanding of how he feels. I have accepted that he no longer wants to be married, and it has helped to reduce the tension.
Nikki: I can totally understand how being more accepting helps and I wish you guys the best.
Separated under the Same Roof
Meet “Separated Samantha”
Samantha and her husband unofficially separated in mid-2019. For some married couples, it’s not uncommon to hit a rough patch that you’re unable to fully recover from.
After 15 years of marriage, unsuccessful attempts at marriage counseling, and known infidelities by her husband, their unofficial separation meant no longer sharing a bed, a bedroom, and being intimate while still living under the same roof.
I know that Samantha’s story is not uncommon, and after attempting a reconciliation, Samantha decided that enough was enough.
Although she couldn’t afford to just pick up and move out, she decided that she didn’t want to live unhappily ever after, and filed for divorce in December of 2019.
On top of the natural tension of sharing space with a spouse who has informed you that “there is no longer a connection,” it became increasingly difficult for Samantha to hide things from their children.
The kids, especially their teenager, sensed that things were different, and eventually both of their families became aware of the demise of their marriage including his infidelity.
Her husband has recently changed his tune and is ready for a fresh start, in a new city, away from her family and friends.
Samantha, on the other hand, has different intentions, all of which may, or may not, have been shared with her husband just yet. 😉
She has changed her focus from constantly “walking on eggshells” and crying herself to sleep, to saving money, watching the family’s finances more closely, and making more strategic decisions to provide for her and her children in the future.
While there are days that she still feels like she has to “smile and bear it” for her kids, it’s frustrating that the divorce process is at a bit of a standstill during COVID-19.
Nikki: What are some of the things you are specifically focused on?
Samantha: I’m focused on my career, going back to school, and making sure my kids are ok. My kids make me laugh and always want to spend time with me, and are a bit upset with their dad. It’s important to me that they have a relationship with their dad, but I understand why they are upset with him.
Nikki: How would you rate your level of civility in your relationship under the current circumstances? On a scale of 1-10, 1 being pretty bad, we hate each other and 10 being great, we’re very civil.
Samantha: As of right now, he thinks we’re in a better position than what we really are (mainly because things are paused), I would say it’s a 6.
It varies between a 4-6. When he attempts to reconcile and I shut it down, he gets angry and then things aren’t so great. No physical abuse, but more verbal and emotional at times.
Nikki: How are you coping considering everything you all have been through?
Samantha: It’s challenging. I’m not going to lie. But I try to be optimistic and understand that this situation is temporary. Even if we were to split, many of the responsibilities that I am dealing with now will still fall on me. I handle the majority of the parenting responsibilities and that likely won’t change.
Work is a good distraction, and while I never planned for my marriage to end, I feel better about the steps that I’m taking to make sure that I will be able to make it on my own.
Could COVID-19 Save Your Marriage
Meet “Ambivalent Aliyah”
Sometimes we are undecided about if we actually want a divorce a not. Going through the motions of day to day life and having the distraction of work, social activities, and shuffling kids back and forth can make a lackluster marriage tolerable.
Throw in a mandatory stay at home order because of COVID-19, and your indecisiveness about your marital status may shift from one side of the spectrum to the other.
Aliyah has been married for 20 years, and while unhappy for quite some time, she is unsure about filing for divorce. Both she and her husband are very successful people and maintain a relatively simple lifestyle with their 1 child.
However, over the course of the last few years they have lived much more like roommates, including a makeshift pillow barrier in the middle of their bed, than life partners.
In the beginning of the stay at home order, Aliyah set pretty high goals of taking control of things and instilling a regimented plan. She was confident that she could juggle being a parent/teacher/counselor/lunch lady/dinner preparer all while working her full time job.
She was planning to cook a hot breakfast every morning and even ordered new desks and computer screens so they could all work from home with no problems – IN THE SAME ROOM.
Maybe I forgot to mention that they share a single level apartment. 😉
Needless to say, by Week 2 there was a new plan!
When they finally felt like they had a good “working” rhythm, other things started to unfold, both good and bad.
Previous challenges with their different parenting styles were now on the surface as they were literally juggling being full time parents and full time employees like never before.
Nikki: What are some of the things you have been doing to cope with the current circumstances?
Aliyah: It’s hard. We are both working a lot of hours, and staying in our own respective spaces helps, but we probably see less of each other now than before. We don’t eat dinner together like we used to because he’s working longer hours.
My kid finds it easier to talk to me about issues with schoolwork, and can deal with my parenting style a bit better than my husband’s. Proximity hasn’t changed that reality, it just puts more responsibility on me during this time.
Nikki: I’m sure that makes things a bit more challenging.
Aliyah: We were watching a movie on Netflix the other night, and it spurred a discussion about mental health and his temperament that became quite intense.
After that conversation things were tense for a while. Since we don’t live in a very big space, I finally needed it to be addressed. It’s something I probably would have just ignored before COVID. We discussed his limited ability to deal with his emotions, and what prompted my feelings for me to want the divorce in the first place. It was an enlightening conversation for him, and almost cathartic for me because I was able to express myself.
The really good thing that has come out of all of this, which has been quite interesting for us, is that we both have a greater appreciation for what we do for a living. He definitely has a deeper understanding and appreciation for what I do, which just wasn’t there before.
Nikki: On a scale of 1-10, 1 being bad and 10 being great, how amicable is your relationship today?
Aliyah: 6.5 – 7. We are generally amicable because we both are sensible enough to understand that we literally can’t go anywhere. No one can slam the door and leave the house to cool off. Because of that we are being forced to do things differently, and behave differently.
Nikki: Do you think you will still file?
Aliyah: Possibly. My feelings about how I have been mistreated in the relationship don’t just go away. Friends and family have suggested that I stay and stick it out. I just don’t see our path continuing in the traditional way. I know that men and women will never really be treated equally in our society. I’m not looking for equality in a relationship, I’m looking for respect, and I just don’t think the respect has been there.
I have brains and talent, and there are other things I offer besides a bra.
I just don’t want to take whatever I can get from him, the way people are suggesting that I should.
When COVID-19 Makes Your Marriage More Challenging
As you can tell from the stories above, no two situations are alike. However they have a lot in common.
Deciding to end a marriage, and learning how to accept that your marriage may be over, is no small task.
Coupled with the complexity of not being able to leave your house for weeks at a time, while being cut off from your support system and self-care activities right when you need it most, can make life feel unbearable.
Rightly so, there has been a lot of focus on couples that are already divorced and their challenges with co-parenting schedules, custody agreement violations, and non-payment of child support due to COVID-19.
The goal of this particular post was just to shed light on the relationships that don’t often get discussed, but face their own challenges.
It was insightful for me to learn more about how divorcing couples (and those on the cusp of it) are surviving during the COVID pandemic.
There is no doubt that this life altering event is forcing all of us to make huge sacrifices, grapple with unexpected losses and death, and deal with a huge amount of uncertainty.
I just wanted others to know that families like the ones above, along with others, deserve compassion and understanding too.
I am hopeful that at least one woman will find a little nugget to help her cope, and recognize that she is not alone and that her struggle is very real.
Until next time… Patience and progress!