A couple of common English words, pod and bubble, have developed new meanings for us during the months of social limitation due to our concerns about COVID transmission. We’ve been told that we should think about the people we live with as our pod, a term used to describe a family group of whales. If the people in our pod all follow the same precautions in their behavior in the outside world, we ought to be able to relax a little in our interactions within our pod, hugging, kissing and having normal physical contacts. The cautions pod members agree on to protect them from outside infection should ideally create a bubble of safety, within which they can carry on normal activities. Of course, this pod/bubble system is only as effective as the individuals make it by their care in following the rules.

Since many of our normal outside activities are not possible because of shut-downs of in-person events, a lot of us are getting to spend much more time together with our pod-members. What a great time to talk more, get to learn new things about each other and share thoughts and ideas! Oh, yeah? It also provides greater opportunities to get on each other’s nerves! Instead of feeling good about the increased time together, many of us have to admit we feel a little smothered, that our pod-mates are always in our face. Rather than being drawn closer through the process, we have to admit there are times we want a bit more distance.

So, it shouldn’t seem surprising that recent studies have shown an increase of 34% in divorce inquiries in the U.S. over the past year. The highest number of these are coming from newer couples, with 20% of couples married 5 months or less talking about divorce, compared to only 11% in 2019.* It’s ironic that a person can feel most profoundly lonely¬†when they’re in what appears to be a close intimate relationship, yet they still feel totally misunderstood. Now, that’s lonely. Another scary indicator of pod overexposure may be seen in this statistic: In 2020, there was a 9% increase in people calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline.** When interpersonal tensions build, people with short fuses are likely to detonate.

In addition to the potential for marital conflict, other pod interactions may find themselves on overload as well. Often pod-people are in closer contact intergenerationally than they would ordinarily be. Natural concern to care for older relatives may spark conflicts over authority and different value systems. And of course, being forced into home schooling escalates the likelihood that parent/child relationships may turn toxic. Neither the kids nor the parents bargained for 24/7 interaction.

However, not all the news is bad. Other studies have shown that the married couples who don’t consider giving up on their marriages and start thinking about divorce often discover that their pandemic pod gives them an opportunity to focus more energy on developing a good relationship. In fact, one study found that 58% of married people between the ages of 18 and 55 said the COVID limitations have made them appreciate their spouse more, and 51% said their commitment to marriage actually deepened.*** That’s really encouraging.

So, it seems that bubble-living can be a curse or a blessing. The decision may up to you — whether you react negatively to the forced increased closeness to the people in your pod and try to pull away, or whether you see this as an opportunity to cultivate better relationships, with your marriage partner, with your children and with older relatives. If you choose the more positive approach, there are some good guides to follow. I discovered one marriage therapist on-line who suggested three simple strategies:

  1. Recognize that the other person has a need to be feel connected and affirmed.
  2. Find out what makes the other person feel connected and affirmed.
  3.  Just do it for the other person.

Notice that there’s nothing here about your needs. This is a secular marriage counselor, and she’s stumbled on one of Jesus’ most revolutionary teachings:

Do unto others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

The Apostle Paul reiterated this several times:
Each one should please the person near us for the good purpose of building up that person. (Romans 15:2)
For the sake of love, become slaves to one another. (Galatians 5:13)
In humility, think about others before yourself. Don’t look first at your own interests, but at the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

That’s the recipe for making your bubble a place where pod-relationships grow and flourish. Try it; you’ll like it.

– Pastor George Van Alstine

* https://www.natlawreview.com/article/divorce-rates-and-covid-19
** https://www.thehotline.org
*** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep2MAx95m20 – Marriage Counselor Michele Weiner-Davis says: “For the past three decades, I’ve been specializing in work with 9-1-1 couples, couples teetering on the edge of divorce. I’ve been involved in resuscitating flat-line relationships. . . We can make the world a better place one marriage at a time, one relationship at a time. People tell me I’m a psychotic optimist. I say: That’s OK; it’s a communicable disease.”