How Your Marriage Went Through The 5 Stages Of Grief During The Pandemic — And How It Can Still Survive

Will things go back to normal, or did you consciously create a new normal?

mirrored image man and woman sitting on the bed getty

Are you wondering what happens to your marriage after the pandemic?

This year and the last has been unprecedented in so many ways. For me, not being old enough to have lived through the Spanish flu, this is my very first pandemic experience.

About a year ago, when I first heard about COVID-19, like most people, I thought we would hunker down for a month or two and quickly get back to normal.

I thought that my husband and I could do anything for a short period of time.


I thought we were being courageous and resilient when the first shelter-at-home orders came down from our governor.

We would stay home to do our part, wash our hands, and not hoard toilet paper!

Obviously, that was wishful thinking because here we are, many months later, still threatened by this deadly virus.

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In addition to watching my own marriage go through the stages of letting go of life as we knew it, in my work as a marriage therapist, I've met with many couples on Zoom since last April.

I started wondering why some of them have been negatively impacted by changes in their lives, while others have found a way to thrive.

In many ways, these past months of 2020 have paralleled Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief and loss: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

The loss of routine, freedom, feeling safe, jobs, health, and death of loved ones have all contributed to our grief.

Here's how your marriage after the pandemic can still survive after going through the 5 stages of grief.

1. Denial.

Clearly, there was denial at the beginning. No one — except maybe the most knowledgeable epidemiologists — thought that they'd still be here watching as the death toll climbs a year later.


People actually thought that they could storm Costco and buy enough toilet paper and supplies to get them through the length of the pandemic!

2. Anger.

As for anger, we've just lived through a banner year. People have raged against state and local governments whose policies have dictated mask-wearing and have even shut down businesses in some places.

At times, people have also raged against the federal government for not having done enough to protect them.

For couples, impatience and frustration have increased as they struggle to live together without many of their usual distractions or freedoms. Simply put, some couples are tired of spending time together 24/7.


A few couples that I see in therapy have opted to sleep in separate bedrooms during these past few months, only in order to create a little bit of distance and alone time.

It seems that the pandemic, with its inherent restrictions, has caused some people to have more anxiety and irritability.

Many are overwhelmed — working from home, monitoring video schooling for children, worrying about their aging parents, and worrying about their own health and what’s safe or not according to the current information availability.

Many have also lost their jobs or are suffering from reduced income and increased uncertainty.

Spouses are the natural place to take out those negative emotions.


3. Bargaining.

While trying to process these various losses, there were times when you've probably entered the bargaining phase of grief. It’s characterized by attempts to squeeze one more drop of normal out of your current circumstances.

"What if we only have six people over? What if we eat indoors, but only take our masks off when we’re eating? What if I hang out with these young friends, they can’t get it, can they?"

And so it goes.

The bargaining phase is the last stand as you resist acceptance.

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4. Depression.

As your bargains fail to restore normalcy, the emotional surrender that follows may appear similar to depression.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of both anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States from April through June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

Suicide and suicidal thoughts, especially among young people, have also increased since the pandemic began.

5. Acceptance.

The answer to whether or not you and your marriage will return to normal after the pandemic is influenced by your ability to get to the final stage: acceptance.

It’s not so much about saying, "It’s OK that we’re experiencing the largest public health crisis in modern history," but rather, "We’re experiencing the largest public health crisis in modern history, and we’re OK."


Some couples came to acceptance very early in the process. They re-arranged their houses, installed good internet, implemented game night, baked bread, and bought seeds for their gardens.

Others have had less privilege and have truly suffered through health and financial challenges.

For those with mild loss, the ability to get back to normal requires an acceptance that there's a "new normal."


Some businesses are gone, offices are closed, and your spouse might be working from home from now on. Perhaps the way you function is forever changed, as are the ways that you socialize, travel, and educate your children.

This pandemic is an opportunity to create even better marriages.

I believe that we have an opportunity to take some of the lessons of the past year to create even better marriages than before.

I like that people are spending more time together as families and having to think of new ways to make the time count.

Couples have had to learn and practice better communication while locked down just to get through the ever-changing circumstances of this pandemic.


So, will your marriage get back to normal? Or is the key to your marriage's survival the conscious creation and acceptance of your new normal?​

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Mary Kay Cocharo is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. For more information, visit her website.