In the first days of the COVID-19 outbreak here in the United States, before we knew how bad the pandemic would get, we were given a short set of simple instructions by national, state, and local leaders:

  • Keep appropriate social distance.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Practice good hand washing.
  • Be especially careful if elderly or immunocompromised.

What I heard in the instructions: Be reasonable, just like with other contagious illnesses, just much more so with this one.

My wife, Ellie, heard something completely different: Stay at home unless absolutely necessary, stay away from people, don’t touch things in public, and worry a lot more than usual.

Our own social distance

I had planned to meet a couple of friends for bowling. There would be at least five lanes between groups of bowlers. But Ellie couldn’t understand why I would even consider it.

I had also planned to go to the store to pick up some supplies to plant our backyard garden. I assured her everything I needed would be outside, and I wouldn’t have to be close to anyone. Still, she considered it way too risky.

The huge chasm between our different perspectives didn’t keep us from coming together for a good fight, though.

I was convinced—over-reactor that I am—I might as well wrap myself in a bubble and live in the middle of a desert. Ellie was concerned any trip other than a walk around the block was not worth taking the chance with my health.

And rightfully so. I’m recovering from a brain tumor and despite being quite healthy otherwise, fighting cancer has given me a compromised immune system that makes me more susceptible to infection. She was worried she might lose me.

Despite our vast differences on the matter, cooler heads and kinder hearts prevailed. She understood I’m more social, and I realized what was at the heart of her concern. Even if everything turned out fine with bowling, it would have placed undue worry on my wife. So I cooled down and told her I wouldn’t go.

As for the trip to the home-improvement store, I assured Ellie I would practice social distancing (15 feet) from anyone else. She agreed we could go together to the garden center if she could take care of everything at the checkout while I went to the car and waited for her to let me load everything for the trip home.

Love in the time of the coronavirus

Now that we know the seriousness of COVID-19, it’s obvious Ellie’s point of view was spot on. But those kinds of things are beside the point when you’re in the middle of an issue that brings out the deepest differences in your personalities—and the deepest needs and concerns of your souls.

These times of quarantines, social distancing and health hypervigilance have us out of our daily routines and comfort zones. That can cause confusion, frustration, worry and a host of other emotions that quickly boil over into arguments.

It’s important for us to acknowledge these emotions are already close to the surface and only need a tiny trigger to set things off. The relationship is usually far more important than the thing that sets off the argument.

It’s about more than the facts of the disagreement. It’s about caring for each other and seeing unity in our relationship. We have to be ready to slow down, communicate our feelings, and extend grace and understanding of our spouse’s perspective and emotions.

Social distancing threatened us again the other day.

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Is social distancing an irreconcilable difference?

My wife is an incredible cook. Still, I have always enjoyed going out to eat. Not just to enjoy a different type of cuisine than we usually have, but to give Ellie a break from the kitchen.

Obviously, that’s not happening amid the coronavirus outbreak, but restaurants are offering drive-thru and delivery. I thought it would be a good idea to pitch to Ellie.

It didn’t go as well as I thought.

Immediately, she pointed out we could bring contagions into our home. When I mentioned our food would be in containers, she worried the food inside could contain the virus.

I didn’t push it any further. I asked if I could help her with dinner or clean up afterward to take some of the responsibilities off her shoulders. I’ll bring it up at another time. I know we’re both stressed and getting a little stir crazy.

In fact, we were doing a Bible study the other night about how Joseph was unjustly locked in prison. When he interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh’s cupbearer, Joseph asked him to plead his case before Pharaoh.

Ellie pointed out something we hadn’t noticed before these days of social distancing and the coronavirus.

“Only remember me . . . and please do me the kindness . . . get me out of this house” (Genesis 40:14)

That gave me hope that she may be open to a takeout meal soon. In the meantime, I’ll just follow the teaching of 1 Peter 3:7: “ husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way . . . “

Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Since 1995, Scott Williams has been ministering to marriages and families. Since 2004, he’s been doing so as a senior writer for FamilyLife. In 2019, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, but by God’s grace, is doing remarkably well and is continuing to write for FamilyLife. Scott and Ellie live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and have seven adult children and three grandchildren.