Ben and Renae Oosterveld are used to chaos.
The couple has been married for 19 years and have five children — but this past year has been one of the most difficult on their relationship.
With all five kids homeschooling and Ben often working from home, there’s little time or energy for the couple to connect.
“It’s everything coming at you, everyone needs you,” said Renae, who has been trying to keep everything running smoothly.
“It’s a year-long struggle of just trying to be the best you can and it’s hard because you have pressure from the schools, and you have so much pressure all around.
“My own honest truth is, I’m just not as good of a dad and as good of a husband right now,” said Ben. “It takes a hell of a lot more work and it takes a hell of a lot more effort to connect and I think COVID has a direct impact on it.”
Alberta Health restrictions have ruled out indoor visits from friends and a temporary ban on many organized sports has been an added strain. Ben used to blow off steam at his men’s league hockey.
The father of five, with children aged eight to 17, said he knows his patience is thin — he realized nine months into the pandemic that he hasn’t been the father and husband his family is used to.
“I’m pretty good,” chuckled Ben, “but I don’t want to be pretty good right now. I’m OK, some days I’m a three out of 10, other days I sneak up to a seven but I haven’t had a 10 out of 10 in a long time.”
Both Ben and Renae admit they have let expectations of each other slide but sometimes they try to escape the clutches of the monotonous grind to find time for each other.
Most times, it’s just a walk outside but they did try a date night in the parking lot of a local restaurant.
“It was OK. We had our favourite food sitting there. We could have Instagrammed that and made everyone think, ‘Oh wow, they’re so romantic!'” said Ben. “The reality was it was OK.”
“It was nice, I liked it!” chimed in Renae.
The couple said honesty has been important to them as the pandemic wears on and magnifies some of the compounding relationship issues.
“It’s a chance to pull some weeds as well,” said Ben.
Dr. Colleen Mullen, a relationship therapist based in San Diego, CA, said the pandemic has led to more and more couples reaching out and booking online counselling sessions with her. She calls it coaching through chaos.
“A lot of couples who were struggling before the pandemic are having much more struggles,” said Mullen.
“I literally had a couple that was together 40 years. It’s like, ‘Why now?’ But it’s all of a sudden there’s no one else involved with the couple.”
Mullen stressed quality over quantity and said it’s important to still carve out that time, especially if you’re both living and working in the same home.
She said watching Netflix together doesn’t count.
“It really is just a concentrated effort and it has to be different than what you do on every Tuesday night.”
Another key to a strong relationship said Mullen, is continuing to learn about your partner.
“Get curious about each other.”
Mullen suggested Googling a couples quiz.
“Take 20 minutes over your date night dinner or lunch in the park and do that.”
Mullen said online therapy can also be a game changer — as more couples feel comfortable in their own home and therapists can sometimes get a glimpse into the chaos of their home life.
While being someone’s everything may sound romantic, the Oostervelds said what has worked for them is spending some time apart.
Ben took off to secluded cabin and said that time away restored his energy and commitment.
“I came back on fire for my family,” he said.
“Even just one day,” added Renae, “because you come back and you find love again. You’re passionate and you communicate better.”