The Covid crisis has put married couples through one very challenging year. A year when they had to conquer their biggest fears, leave their comfort zones, and journey through uncharted territories. They were forced to show stability amid dwindling finances, major career shifts, parenting stresses, and marital issues. All while keeping everyone in the family alive and safe.
“They are surviving, because we’re all survivors,” says The Love Institute family and relationship specialist Aiza Tabayoyong of the Filipino couples in the time of Covid. There is a good percentage of couples who are thriving—meaning, “they are more deliberate in their relationship-building and in meeting their partner’s needs.” But there are also couples who are seeking help because they’ve reached a breaking point in their marriage.
Father Ted Gonzales, SJ, program director and counselor at the Ruben M. Tanseco S.J. Center for Family Ministries (RMT-CEFAM) says Covid has brought stress to many married couples, but those with strong relationships emerge stronger.
Gonzales says old, unhealthy habits are like viruses that can endanger a marriage. People can get stuck in their old ways and the challenge is to break free from them. “If you have poor, dysfunctional habits, those will surface during this time,” he says. “If you have an abusive relationship—like, masakit magsalita—it will erupt.” Lack of financial discipline will definitely put a strain in a marriage, so do doubts, fears and insecurities.
But those who are able to get themselves out of that rut, are able to find sublime reasons to overcome these struggles, says Father Ted.
Since the pandemic has brought couples together like never before, 24/7, there is a likelihood for a marriage to be strained with irritants. She mentions some examples: the partner wakes up late, does not help with chores or with teaching the kids, does not respect privacy time, seems needy but doesn’t express it.
These little irritants, she says, can cause a growing tension until it becomes explosive. “When that time comes, when people are already angry beyond control, that’s when they say things that are hurtful or things they don’t mean. So doon na din nagso-snowball into a bigger fight—from a little irritant to hurtful words that you said that you wish you can take back.”
The times are no doubt tough for couples but for Tabayoyong, couples don’t exactly need to be tougher—they need to be smarter, to realize the value of stepping back and thinking things through.
“If people in the house don’t have a good enough relationship for you to be able to decompress, to ask support from, and to feel safe enough, it will come out as a demand, as selfishness, insensitivity, inconsideration when all you really need to do is sit down, be deliberate about it and talk it out,” explains the relationship expert.
We spoke to three couples who each have their own pandemic survival story.
Bernard and Clarice
If there’s anything that is putting a strain in their marriage, Bernard and Clarice Aviñante says it’s having to juggle their professional careers with parenting duties and homeschooling the kids. Bernard is a stockbroker while Clarice is a psychologist and an essential oils distributor. Their children are ages 12, 9 and 6.
Things got stressful for the whole family due to the myriad changes they had to adjust to, changes mostly brought on by the pandemic. The kids had to deal with a new mode of learning and a new cluster group (new sets of classmates). Since their helpers weren’t able to return due to the lockdown, they both had to divide the domestic duties between themselves.
“Trading hours is between 9AM to 1PM, school hours din yun,” says Bernard. Clarice’s Young Living business, on the other hand, demanded much of her time during the pandemic, so it was a struggle keeping up with all the things they needed to attend to. At night, Bernard would have to monitor the US stock market, while Clarice would do what’s left of her work. “Tapos kailangan gumising ng maaga to do the things na dati helper ang gumagawa. May time na as in naiiyak na ako,” Clarice admits.
Before the pandemic, they used to go on once-a-month impromptu trips to decompress, relax, and regroup. But when Covid hit, that was no longer possible. “Nawala yung mga ganun. Ang laking toll nyan sa mental health namin,” says Clarice.
When they started seeing signs of mental and emotional stress on the kids, they had to make a big decision: give the children a gap year. “Before we get to that point na hirap na talaga, we decided to take the precautionary measure,” explains Bernard. It was also a conscious decision to make sure they keep their marriage strong.
Since stocks trading is down and the EO business is booming, husband and wife saw the need to swap roles. Bernard stepped up and started taking on stuff he wasn’t used to doing: buying groceries, carpentry work, and gardening, while Clarice focused on earning money for the family.
“The buzzword now is to pivot,” says Bernard. “But each of us should also be ready to adapt. We grew up thinking we should be like this. But the reality calls for a different version of you, so you have to embrace that reality.”
John and Nini
John and Nini Falcon have been happily married for 26 years. But through all those years, they were never in one place 24/7. Pre-pandemic, John, a solution architect, would be working in his BGC or Cubao office for a large chunk of the day, while Nini, a designer and entrepreneur, would either be meeting clients or doing errands.
When Nini found out about the lockdown, she imagined they’ll most likely drive each other crazy. “I knew that the kitchen will be busier than ever. I can almost hear myself incessantly reminding everyone to pick up, clean or tone things down. Boy oh boy, kahit ako naingayan sa sarili ko,” she says.
John says suddenly becoming accessible to his wife 24/7 even when he’s at work entailed a bit of an adjustment. “You hear all the reminders, heads-up, instructions, follow ups, reminders—did I say reminders already?—all the time which sometimes can drive you crazy,” says John.
But he learned to become more patient and understanding of Nini, and came to understand more about the intentions and reasons behind her pangungulit. “It was really for everyone’s good.”
Nini says communication was also a major hurdle. While they talk to each other a lot, she felt they were not exactly communicating. They were hearing each other, yes, but they were seldom listening to what the other person is saying. “For me to hear out what John has to say, I have to set aside my own angst, judgments and clutter in my mind,” Nini shares. “It’s also my responsibility to make myself heard. Hindi yung bigla na lang ako mag-iinarte sa tabi without even communicating how I feel about things to John.”
During the second lockdown, the couple thought of bringing back a practice they learned during their Marriage Encounter workshops—dialogue sessions. They went back to the sets of questions they were asked —how they feel about prayer, families, finances, future plans, etc.—and put their answers in writing. “Then we read our answers out loud to the family on how we feel about certain issues. That made us discover each other more.”
By being together most of the time, John and Nini also developed their own subtle and special ways of “lambing” and communicating. They learned to air out their feelings, “talk about it, hear it out, and end it with a hug.”
The pandemic brought them back to the basics, says John—“that at the end of the day, you have your family to take care of, to be with, to rely on.” His relationship with his wife comes first. “That relationship should be strong so I can have that kind of relationship with the rest of the family. One can be strong and firm with their values if they come from a strong family. Of course, a strong family starts from a strong marriage. For me, building a nation starts from building your family and it starts with the one I vowed to have and to hold.”
Junnel and Gia
To find out one tested positive of Covid is probably the most nerve-wracking news one could get during this pandemic, especially for a mother who lives with her husband and five children. That’s exactly what happened to 42-year-old Gialyn Segovia who thinks she probably contracted the virus from the market she frequented to buy stuff for her small home store.
When she lost her sense of taste, Gialyn immediately availed of the free swab test in Navotas City where they live. She found out she was positive in August 2020. Her husband Junnel and children all underwent swab tests after and fortunately tested negative. The most difficult period for Gialyn was being away from her family. She was sent to Capaz, Tarlac, to be isolated.
“Ang hirap,” Gialyn recalls of the ordeal. “Nag-video call na lang kami at araw-araw na pananalangin.” She stayed in the facility for eight days, and was eventually sent home to isolate for another week.
Through the course of the pandemic, the couple had to make do with whatever little income they make through selling merienda (burger, kikiam and french fries) at home and the ayuda they receive from the local government. Junnel was working as a welder but the company that employed him closed in March, so he had to take whatever available raket he can find. Currently, he works as a part-time welder in Malabon.
Gialyn learned to be more understanding of the situation and not to start a fight over the lack of money. “Kung ano lang ang kayang ilagay sa hapag kainan, matutong pagtiyagaan. Hindi yung maghahanap ka pa. Kung may maitutulong ka bilang asawa, tumulong na lang, wag na pag-awayan pa,” she says. Even before the pandemic, Gialyn says she’s been helping her husband, a minimum wage worker.
Times may have been challenging but Gialyn says they did not allow the difficulties to defeat them. She appreciates the fact that Junnel is able to bond with the kids more now and they are able to have couple time, like going to church, something they didn’t do pre-pandemic because Junnel was always tired from work. “Hindi kami nagpaapekto sa sitwasyon, bagkus nagpakatatag kami,” she says.
For couples going through rough patches due to problems brought on by the pandemic, Tabayoyong’s advice is to take the time together as an opportunity to face the issues and talk about it. “There’s a new normal. We don’t need to wait for the ‘normal normal’ to come back,” she says.
While it’s good to spend quality time with your partner, she still recommends giving each other “me time” for self-care and decompressing. “We need to fill up our own tanks, so that when we give out to our loved ones, we’re coming from the overflow and not from on an empty vessel.”
She advises couples to have dates, or a time to appreciate each other, talk about their goals and dreams. “Let it be Valentine’s once a week,” she says. It can even be just spending time together at the terrace or the garden, finding a space in your bedroom, lighting a candle or opening a bottle of wine.
Financial hurdles should not stop couples from strengthening their bond and their relationship. “Everyone goes through challenges but hopefully, together, you can be each other’s support system,” she says.
Father Ted’s advice, meanwhile, is to be aware of our fears, doubts and insecurities, so the couples can rise above them and have a breakthrough. “The soul is greater than the pandemic,” he says with much optimism. “It will survive these challenges.”
For those in need of counseling or relationship advice, you may call CEFAM http://www.cefam.ph/