Q. Share a snapshot of your married life before the pandemic. Where were you in the trajectory of your relationship when the lockdown started?
Anne: I met my now-husband Kenny Soule in 1997. He’s a professional drummer and was playing in a band with a dear friend of mine from college. We were long-distance in those days – him in Raleigh, NC, and me in Brooklyn, NYC. In 2001, he relocated to NYC, and we moved in together. In 2003, we married. In 2006, we bought our house in Queens, NYC. That is where we were when the pandemic hit. And that is where we have stayed for the duration.
Alyssa: My husband and I got married in November 2019. We had not lived together before our marriage, so that 2019/2020 winter was already a huge learning curve. My husband was also working full-time and taking evening classes while I worked days, so we had opposite schedules for those first few months. Like most of us, that all changed in March 2020.
Q. How has the pandemic altered your expectations or routines?
Anne: Given the nature of our work and opposing schedules, this is the most sustained and consistent amount of time we have spent together since meeting nearly 25 years ago. As a musician, he works at night and was often out gigging. As a corporate person, I am up at dawn and in bed by 10:00 pm. We both used to travel regularly. To be constantly home, constantly together, was the most obvious shift. Yet another big change has been bringing the intensity of my workspace (and work headspace) to our home. My job in agency leadership has been as 24/7 as ever, even as his life’s work of playing music live disappeared literally overnight. Thankfully his home studio and recording capabilities allowed him to continue collaborating and making music remotely. But it’s certainly nowhere near the same.
Alyssa: In January 2020, my husband and I deemed it the “year of the fun” (no joke - you can check my Instagram). He had been in school and working weekends for most of our relationship, so when we found out his school schedule was going to lighten up a bit in 2020, we decided that it was going to be the year that we would actually go on trips with friends, go to the weeknight concerts, have brunch on Saturdays and travel the world. We didn’t want to miss out on any more experiences or say no to any more invites. Ha. When the lockdown first happened, my husband was put on furlough, his school was switched to virtual, and suddenly, we got what we always wanted, time together. But it was a lot of time together. In a one-bedroom apartment. With no plans. No experiences. No fun. Eventually, he went back to work (including on Saturdays, womp, womp) and started school again, and it was clear that our “year of the fun” was not going to be what we imagined.
Q. Has there been a change in who takes on specific household or other responsibilities? Has this period shifted how you relate to one another on the whole?
Anne: They say marriage is a partnership and that is certainly true for us. But in a heterosexual couple, there are often still those “traditional” gender roles that tend to be performed. While we are not the typical couple in many ways, we can find ourselves assuming the parts assigned by culture – with my husband owning all things related to the car and me handling the cooking, laundry, etc. He had already started to take on more of those household chores, especially in moments where my job or volunteer activities get particularly intense. The pandemic has now enabled even greater balance and sharing. Plus, we have had more intentional talks about how we manage these parts of our lives together.
Alyssa: Before the pandemic, I did most of the cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping and cooking mostly because I like doing those things. But after the lockdown began, it depended on the month due to my husband’s ever-changing schedule. For instance, right when the pandemic began and he was furloughed and school temporarily paused, he took on all of the grocery shopping and meal prep. It was a huge help as I was adjusting to a work-from-home schedule and some new work responsibilities. But later in the summer, I took those responsibilities back when he went back to work full time and had classes. We learned the importance of communication and that right before a schedule change, we would sit down and have a conversation on who should do what. That open communication helped prevent us from getting overwhelmed and keep a team-based mindset during challenging and stressful times. We probably would have had a somewhat similar experience with or without the lockdown since we were still getting into the swing of things, but I think it sped up some conversations.
Q. What has been the nicest surprise about these pandemic months together?
Anne: One of the nicest things to realize is how much we still value and enjoy one another’s company. This is by no means a given in a long-term relationship. It is something I do not take for granted, not even for a moment.
Alyssa: We got to learn how to (and how NOT to) support one another during stressful times. Of course, I saw some of this while we were dating, but throughout this year we were able to see and learn more about how to care for each other. Who likes to be left alone, who likes to talk through things (spoiler - that is me), who needs to go for a run (definitely not me), who needs a night to Zoom and laugh with friends and NOT talk about the pandemic, and who needs a hug. We both had the mindset that while this last year has been horrible, it is guaranteed that we will have stressful and hard times to come in our marriage, and we might as well start working on how to support one another through this trying time now.
Q. What has been the toughest challenge?
Anne: My biggest pandemic challenge relative to my marriage has been managing a sometimes heavy and often anxious headspace. More specifically, how I manage those emotions in the context of this other person whom I love and want to bring my best self to. This has been a dark time for so many people. While I am deeply privileged relative to others’ experiences of the pandemic, these 12 months have challenged me in ways I still don’t fully understand. Those moments of darkness or depression are heavy to carry alone, much less to put on another person. It’s easy to lash out at or shut down to the person closest to you, the one who cares the most. It takes compassion and constant self-awareness to avoid this pattern. You need to stay connected even in the moments where you feel emotionally or spiritually empty.
Alyssa: Not indulging in self-pity. Like many others, we had high hopes for 2020. We had trips booked, reservations made, timelines set, fun to be had, and that all came crashing down along with our seemingly reasonable expectations. We began to indulge in self-pity. We encouraged bitterness, anger, resentment... and then we realized that we were only harming ourselves. It is a work in progress, but we are trying to pursue gratitude instead of grumbling and making new memories instead of reflecting on all of the ones that have been lost. I do want to clarify that self-pity is not the same as sadness and grief, which are both very important and necessary emotions (you can read more about the difference here), especially with all of the loss that has occurred this past year.
Q. When you think back on this time, what will be your biggest takeaway relative to the impact on your marriage?
Anne: I’m still trying to process pandemic “year one.” But I believe I’ll always remember the feeling of stopping and staying put with this person. We had already committed to spending the rest of our lives together. That was nothing new. But in 2020, that sense of “just us” was deeper and more profound.
Alyssa: My biggest takeaway has been understanding the importance of quality time. Not mindless time watching your shows or time sitting next to each other before bed scrolling on your phones, but time where you were looking at and listening to your spouse. This took some intentional practice and sacrifices (one of us getting up early or staying up late since we had/have such varying schedules), but it infinitely paid off. We felt more aligned, connected, heard and known. We are going to keep quality time a priority.
Q. Do you have any advice for other women who are navigating this period with their spouses or partners?
Anne: Patience and kindness go a long, long way. These might be the most critical components in sustaining a long and loving relationship. I try to let go of momentary petty issues. Reach out from your own moments of darkness or personal isolation. Don’t take those feelings out on the other person simply because they are the only ones there. And understand that deeper connection is formed just as much in the quiet, even banal, everyday moments as it is in those more active times when you’re going places, doing things or realizing some major plan.
Alyssa: Set aside time to find ways to have fun at your comfort level with friends and each other. Make the phone call. Have a Zoom date. Go for a walk in a new neighborhood. Send the letter. Laughter and making new memories have been one of the largest self-pity, stress/anxiety fighters for us. It has helped us remember that while it was not the “year of the fun” we imagined, it can still be meaningful.