Couples say pandemic challenged their marriages, but now they’re stronger for it

Patrick and Carol Troy of Guardian Angels Parish and their children Zachary, 6, Nicholas, 4 and Alexandria, 2, spent most of the COVID-19 pandemic at home, where they’ve relied on walks around the neighborhood, grandparents stepping up to babysit and an emphasis on communication in keeping it all together. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Working from home, suspension of public Mass, change of routine forced families rethink priorities, carve out time for prayer, support

CLAWSON  Husbands and wives promise to love and care for each other in sickness and health, for better or for worse. 

But when the entire world is going through a pandemic, and when a loss of health, wealth and sanity are on everyone’s minds, it can lead to unforeseen challenges. 

As family rooms turned into offices and kitchens became classrooms, families had to adapt, putting stress on marriages and causing families to reflect on their vocation in creative ways. 

For Carol and Patrick Troy of Guardian Angels Parish in Clawson, it meant spending all day and every day with each other and their three children, all while both of them worked in the health care industry and had to balance work obligations with limited child care options. 

“Fortunately, Patrick’s parents helped us out for some of the day, but we couldn’t rely on them to be with the children 10 to 12 hours a day,” Carol Troy, a nurse practitioner, told Detroit Catholic. “Patrick ended up working from home and provided child care, God bless him, for the first bit. Then we ended up finding a nanny, but finding a nanny is very challenging in the current climate.” 

Patrick is a nurse practitioner as well, working in a cardiac clinic that was shut down in the early days of the pandemic, freeing him up to care for Zachary, 6, Nicholas, 4, and Alexandria, 2. He eventually was reassigned to work in makeshift COVID wards, but for a while it was up to him to care for three kids in a world that suddenly was shut down. 

“We got to walk around the neighborhood and know it really well,” Patrick said. “There were a lot of walks. Being married for eight years, then running into the COVID buzz saw, I’ve realized that routine strengthens marriages. But what strengthen marriages more is having to think on our feet and put us to the test, realizing we’re a team, and we’re pretty good at it. There isn’t a lot we can’t handle together.” 

Working together as a team and realizing when your partner doesn’t have all the answers all the time is a common theme among couples who endured the stressors that came with living through a generational pandemic. 

Jeff and Erin Ostrowski of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth had to deal with the major break in routine with Jeff, a software engineer for the Ford Motor Company, adapting to working from home, as Erin, a stay-at-home mom, cared for three children in what was normally a quiet house. 

Jeff and Erin Ostrowski have been getting used to tight confines in their Plymouth home, with Jeff being a software engineer for the Ford Motor Company, and Erin being a stay-at-home mom, overseeing the house where Mariana, Luke and Rose have been spending most of their summer. (Courtesy of the Ostrowski family)

“I had the ability before to wind down on a commute home every day for 20 minutes between Dearborn and Plymouth, and then I didn’t have that,” Jeff Ostrowski said. “Every day I tried to change how I balanced work and home, but on the flip side, I was more present. Between meetings and work, I was able to walk out and give my kids and family a hug with everything going on.” 

Erin is usually tasked with keeping up the house while Jeff is at work and Mariana, 9, Luke, 8, and Rose, 6, are at All Saints Catholic School in Canton. But with the kids spending the first part of the pandemic learning remotely and Jeff setting up his team with remote work, it quickly became difficult for the family to keep their heads above water. 

“I found ways to sneak away and come to our bedroom, shut the door and take a nap or say a quick prayer when I needed the space and time,” Erin said. “We did some family walks and bike rides in our neighborhood, and on those, Jeff and I would let the kids ride ahead of us so we could have that time together. Making sure we were doing OK.” 

The suspension of public Mass was especially difficult for most families in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Here, the Ostrowski family takes part in parking lot Eucharistic adoration at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth. (Courtesy of the Ostrowski family)

Beyond work and school, the suspension of public Masses was a challenge for the Ostrowskis. The family would dress up for the Sunday livestreams, but it couldn’t compare to the real thing.  

The family was especially grateful when Our Lady of Good Counsel set up a Mass in the parish parking lot

“We were really grateful for the opportunity to have outdoor Mass at our church,” Erin Ostrowski said. “Having the chance to worship in that space again, to be able to see our church family through the car windows, that helped a lot. We had a Mass said in our home by one of the priests as well, and that was a tremendous blessing to bring that into our home and have our kids witness that.” 

A testament to the family’s resiliency, Mariana and Luke both made their first Communions during the pandemic. But along the way, the Ostrowskis, and others, discovered what is truly critical in family life, and what can be reworked as things go back to “normal.” 

Jeff Ostrowski said the upside has been his ability to spend dinners and time praying with his family, a key point of emphasis in Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s Unleash the Gospel pastoral letter. 

“I think our marriage has grown stronger because of everything that has transpired since March 2020,” Jeff said. “I realized the importance of being present with my family. As we get into the rhythm of normal, we are trying to emphasize being more present in the week, keeping Sunday holy and clearing that weekend to be together. 

“As we are finally, hopefully, getting through this crazy, negative experience, the positive thing is this has made our family stronger,” he added. 

The families who spoke with Detroit Catholic all mentioned there were times of difficulty, tense conversations and moments of extreme doubt. As routines were upended and developments became unpredictable, spouses had to adjust and check in with each other to make sure they were OK. 

Finding time to pray and take advantage of more time with family — including Marina Ostrowski’s first Communion at Our Lady of Good Counsel -— have been small graces amidst the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Tom and Cristin Joy of Guardian Angels Parish were primarily working from home for the early part of the pandemic. While the adjustment with them and their three girls was a challenge, the real work came later in the pandemic, when the novelty of at-home schools and restricted social opportunities wore off. 

“We were all at home together, so early on we found a lot to do with the kids, going outdoors,” Tom Joy said. “But the more we were at home, really by mid-summer and late last year, it was pretty tough. It became a grind being in the same routine. That’s when we had to step back and be really intentional about communicating, asking, ‘Are you OK?’” 

Communication was key, Cristin said, noting she and Tom would make time out of each week to review the week. 

“We’ve been married for 11 years, but we still needed those moments to step away from it all and ask each other, ‘Where did you feel loved this week?’ and ‘What area would you like for me to pray for you about?’” Cristin said. 

That sense of accountability and developing a routine of prayer — in a world in which every other routine seemed to be thrown out the window — helped the Joy family keep a grasp on things. 

The couple, along with others who spoke with Detroit Catholic, noted the pandemic has been hard on every family, but it was reliance on God and taking the time to strip down the schedule to real essentials where couples found what it takes to make a marriage strong — both in this particular crisis, and with whatever comes down the road. 

“I think we got closer because we got to do more together as a family when we needed to do it,” Tom Joy said. “This was a chance to try and create better habits, like praying together, being more present among each other, not being caught up in the work or daily routine. Whether we felt stress on the day or not, the big part of keeping it together and staying calm is being able to trust that God is in control.”