Melbourne-based Audrey* had been dealing with resentment toward her husband Ken* because of his seemingly lackadaisical attitude towards their son Conner* and it had been affecting their relationship over the years.
She shares with AsiaOne how it took the Covid-19 pandemic, of all things, to get her marriage back on the right track.
*not their real names
It had been a while that Audrey had felt a spark in her marriage. "It's like we were living in an automated mode," she said. "We thought it was normal, since we've been together for 12 years."
However, thoughts of looking for a place to rent near her workplace, potentially raising her son as a single parent as she was "already living like a single parent anyway" lurked in her mind for months and she realised that things were not right.
The problem was not something new and it had been brewing for a long time. Her husband, Ken, worked long hours and was always busy.
"In fact, when I was in labour, he even left midway to tend to some work matters," she recounts, adding that the obstetrician was indignant on her behalf and hauled her husband back to witness the birth of their son.
The long work hours persisted and her husband was an absentee parent for their son, Conner. "Ever since the birth of our son, I had handled every single night session, early morning wakes, middle of the night chaos all by myself."
The reason that Ken gave for not being involved: He needed to work and required a good night's sleep. "He just assumed that I can sleep when my baby naps."
It didn't help that Conner was a "high needs baby" and because Audrey chose to breastfeed all the way, her husband didn't see the need to help out at night as there was little that he assumed he could do.
This resulted in Conner "rejecting" his dad and Ken then took it as the "easy way out" and as a reason to disengage when it came to caring for Conner.
Slowly but surely, the discontentment started to build within Audrey. "It's when I realised I didn't want to have a second child that I knew that I was resentful. I didn't want to go through everything alone again."
Then Covid-19 hit. As the family is based in Melbourne, Australia, during the second lockdown, they had to comply to Stage 4 restrictions, where residents can only leave for essential activities and had to stick to a state-wide curfew.
And this was when things came to a head.
Stuck at home because of Covid-19
Both Ken and Malaysia-born Audrey, who works as a teacher, had to work from home, and three-year-old Conner was stuck at home too as the childcare centre he usually went to was shut. "And it was hard," says Audrey.
Having a child at home meant needing to care for him, but Ken continued to make his work the priority, paying little heed to the fact that Audrey too had to continue teaching online classes.
To make matters worse, he would even get upset if Conner were to interrupt him during the day. Taking care of Conner fell squarely on Audrey's shoulders.
Once when Audrey had to conduct an online oral assessment for her students and could not afford to be interrupted, she requested for Ken to manage Conner for half an hour. However, when the assessment commenced, Conner barged in with the "noisiest toy in the house", making it impossible for her to carry out her tasks.
She recalls apologising to her students, muting the class, reprimanding Conner while holding back her anger and wondering where her husband was.
When she finally got a hold of Ken, he said that he had to use the washroom, so he gave Conner a toy and told him to stay in the room. "As if a three-year-old will comply to that," says Audrey.
It didn't help matters when Ken then chose to take a shower, instead of coming out to check on his son. "All I asked for was 30 minutes."
She chose to put this behind them, but it happened a second time. This time she had to be a translator for a serious school matter, and again she requested that Ken ensure that Conner not interrupt her for half an hour.
"Once I started, Conner started banging on the door furiously and screaming at the top of his lungs, wanting me to unlock the door and let him in."
Faced with little choice but to attend to her son as her husband was once again nowhere to be found, she proceeded with the session as Conner sat on her lap and played with her face the entire time.
Although her principal commended her for handling the situation well, all Audrey felt was extreme disappointment. "My job is equally as important as his job. How can the person I rely on fail to deliver when I most needed him?"
It didn't help the situation when Ken then came into the room and scolded Audrey for opening the door for their son. "He said that I brought it upon myself."
That was the breaking point for Audrey. "I yelled back, 'You mean I should have let him keep banging on the door and screaming away? Where were you? All I asked for was 30 minutes, why can't you even do that.'
"I just kept sobbing after that and told both of them that I needed to be alone."
It took quite a while before Audrey collected herself and went to make dinner, all the time avoiding eye contact with Ken.
The big change
To her surprise, Ken took charge of showering Conner that evening, something that he had never done before.
And he has stuck to the routine since, taking on the same responsibility daily without being asked.
He started to ask about Audrey's schedule for the day and inform her if he needed to go onsite for work. He also started taking a more active role in caring for Conner.
Ken's relationship with Conner has improved by leaps and bounds as thanks to Covid-19 and the Melbourne restrictions, Ken has been able to spend more time with Conner and witness Conner's growth firsthand.
Conner is now open to spending time alone with his dad, though he still prefers mum, quips Audrey. But these days Ken doesn't go down without a fight, and will try to compete for Conner's attention.
The ultimate sign that things are really different from before: Ken can put Conner to bed if Audrey is busy without him kicking up a fuss.
This is something that Audrey would have never dreamt of a mere five months ago.
She shares, "I found myself communicating better with my husband and feeling loved again. I also became gentler, more patient, more loving towards everyone… I start prioritising my husband more and not neglecting him as much, which happens easily when you have kids."
This worked wonders for their relationship, both in and out of the bedroom. "With every effort made to be good to each other, our sex life improved, and we both felt wanted and appreciated by the other person."
With their marriage stronger and better than ever, Audrey is confident that even as restrictions are slowly eased and both Ken and her head back to work, they won't fall back to their old ways. "We've learnt to communicate and figure out how we can help one another," she shares.
"Covid-19 has brought a lot of pain and disruption for many, but I'm grateful that this period of time has saved my marriage."
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