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  • For me, the pandemic has called up trauma from my early days as an abandoned spouse: The bomb out of nowhere that changed my life forever, the free-floating anxiety, sleepless nights, and financial woes. Tweet This
  • When this crisis is over, my hope is that the married couples of today who emerge stronger will become a voice for the value of intact families. Tweet This

Fear of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders that come with it have changed U.S. life in an instant. One moment, we were a robust economy of constant pleasure seekers, watching the Super Bowl, traveling and eating out. The next, we became a nation confined at home, with growing unemployment, panicked at the sight of an empty toilet paper holder. We shake our heads each morning and wonder how much worse it can get, only to find out before we turn in for the night. 

For me, the pandemic has called up trauma from my early days as an abandoned spouse: The bomb out of nowhere that changed my life forever, the free-floating anxiety, sleepless nights, and financial woes. Longing for a hug while drifting through each day in a fog-like confusion, pressured to meet fresh challenges and swiftly adapt to ever-changing conditions.

Overnight, I became a single mother with twice as much to do and little help to do it. Like life under COVID-19, triage dominated daily life. This went on for years.       

After my husband had an affair and sued me for divorce and custody of our children, I’d often wake from my nightmares, bewildered, for a moment unable to separate fact from fiction. Was my husband really gone? Had my children really been taken from me every other weekend while I cried on my bedroom floor, cloistered inside alone? Had he really cut off access to the joint credit cards and not put my name on his bank account? (I’d stopped practicing law and become a stay-at-home mom by this point.) None if it seemed real—and yet it was.

My former husband and I had loved the Mad Max movies with Mel Gibson. After he left, I likened my life to one lived beyond the Thunderdome. Everything once considered normal had been turned upside down. Eerily similar to life now.

Along with so many other things, the pandemic will undoubtedly impact marriage in the U.S., too. In his recent Wall Street Journal article, Brad Wilcox says there’s no doubt the stress of marital life now will result in some divorces. The divorce rate has gone down in recent years, but it remains high, while the marriage rate continues to drop.

Although it took me considerable time, I finally harnessed the financial resources, strength, and faith to build a new life. The lessons and skills I learned have been invaluable in the last few years. I know now that life is always uncertain and that challenges will continue to arise, as they have. I know not to depend on people or possessions for my happiness—and I am happy again.

Still, when disaster strikes, old memories resurface. Although divorce doesn’t cause PTSD, symptoms can develop post-dissolution for some divorcees, and a pandemic can trigger it. The other day, I gave in to the tears I’d been holding back. I live alone and could really use a hug from my daughters, who still live in New York City. As I rode my bike in downtown Savannah last week, I caught glimpses of couples strolling hand in hand, others quarantining together on their verandas. An image of my ex and his third wife flashed before me, and I felt the old anger rise. I quickly snuffed it out—because abandoned spouses must live in a state of vigilance or else succumb to the flames themselves.

I know people are dying from COVID-19. It’s sad and tragic. I don’t take suffering or death lightly. Beating this crisis personally and as a nation requires laser-focus. But meanwhile, millions of people continue to suffer from pre-existing conditions–poverty, homelessness, cancer, wrongful incarceration, and scores of other illnesses and injustices. This includes abandoned spouses who continually deal with divorce fallout.

Indeed, for more than 50 years, our unconstitutional divorce laws have churned out a fresh batch of abandoned spouses, along with their children, forced to face the world alone and rebuild.

Ample research demonstrates that divorce puts these spouses at higher risks for cardiovascular diseasehigh blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses. And that’s just the physical scars—there are also emotional and economic ones. It’s reasonable to wonder if abandoned spouses with compromised immune systems are perhaps also more susceptible to coronavirus.

However, over the last 50 years, law and policymakers have expended little effort to upend our unconstitutional divorce laws. Before the crisis, the left and right were too busy fighting over culture wars. Now, they’ve turned their attention to which party will claim the political victory over COVID-19. Like me, the victims of forced divorce are told to move on and stop bellyaching.

“A lot of women stuck inside with their annoying husbands might rather be you right now,” a friend said to me the other day. I know she meant well and was just trying to keep my spirits up with a lighthearted joke. I turn to humor more and more these days myself. But abandoned spouses know from experience that the advantages of marriage outweigh those of divorce.

And the married women and men with families complaining how hard it is to juggle jobs, homeschooling, cooking dinner, and spouses right now? I get it. It’s hard. But you are also lucky to have four hands instead of two. And you are able to receive those necessary hugs.

There is a silver lining in all this. As Wilcox pointed out in his Wall Street Journal article, although some marriages will fail when the crisis is over, many will emerge stronger and more stable. “That’s because in times of trial and tribulation [they become] more cognizant of how much they need their family members to navigate difficult and dark times,” he wrote. 

It’s true. It’s how I grew up—in a close network of extended family, none of whom divorced, who looked to each other in times of trouble and emerged more resilient for it. It’s one reason I knew the value of my own marriage and tried to save it. 

When the COVID-19 crisis is over, my hope is that the married couples of today who emerge stronger will become a voice for the value of intact families. And I hope that they will not only open their eyes and hearts to the worth of their own marriages, but also to the millions of fallen victims of wrongful divorce living in the world alongside them.

Beverly Willett is the author of Disassembly Requireda memoir about overcoming loss and starting over.