by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — Marriage can be difficult even in the best of times, but most of 2020 and part of 2021 have not been the best of times.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw everyone a curveball.
Lives were disrupted in many ways: lost jobs, lost income, remote school and work, canceled vacations and other activities, disrupted routines and separation from loved ones and friends.
Families have spent a lot more time together this year than they have in the past. For some couples, the old truism “familiarity breeds contempt” proved true indeed.
But not for others. Their marriages actually improved during the pandemic.
One such couple is Leo and Maria Cangiani, members of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka.
She’s a nurse practitioner and he’s a teacher, now a stay-at-home dad. They have five children between nine months old and 14 years old. They home school all but two of their children.
“I think the pandemic, honestly, brought us closer than apart,” said Maria. “During the pandemic, we were pregnant with our nine-month-old, so that brought on different challenges.”
“We relied on each other to figure out what was best in our family,” she added. “That required communication and support. We did a lot of checks — ‘How are you doing today?’ — and we improved our prayer life.”
One thing the pandemic did was to clear away distractions that had accumulated in their lives.
“Our marriage, we say, is always a work in progress,” said Leo. “[The pandemic] definitely helped us slow down our weekly routine. We were involved in so many activities with work, school and church — things going on. It forced us to sit down and be around each other a lot more and get a little deeper on different levels.”
The pandemic, while causing financial strain and other stressors in their lives, actually was a sort of blessing for the Cangiani family.
“We took it as a blessing to increase our prayer lives and to put more trust in God than in ourselves,” said Maria. “It brought to light many things that we were spending [too much] time on otherwise.”
One thing they did was read together a couple of books by Catholic author Matthew Kelly every morning. They also began — when it became possible — to take the entire family to daily Mass. Maria and Leo leave the kids at home on the weekend and go to Mass alone together, a kind of “date Mass.”
They also attended a marriage course from October 2020 to February this year at St. Stanislaus Parish in nearby Rossville. The course covered things such as communicating within a marriage, resolving conflicts, increasing sexual intimacy, learning your partner’s love language, knowing how to share and respect each other’s roles and more.
Last summer, they went to Prairie Star Ranch in Williamsburg for a family camp. It wasn’t a true retreat, but it gave them time to be with each other while the kids were off doing their own activities.
They also began a daily family rosary.
Whether or not a marriage improves or suffers during a pandemic — or any time — is really intentional, said Maria.
“It’s a choice,” she said. “You either deal with the issues at hand you’ve been avoiding because you’ve been busy, or you continue to avoid those problems by having more conflict, being bitter or holding onto those [negative] feelings.
“We both made a choice. It’s not easy. It’s a conscious effort — an intentional choice. I married Leo because I love him, and love isn’t necessarily a feeling. It’s an action.”
The biggest thing, said Maria, is that they put a priority on making God a part of their lives. They’ve prayed constantly for the Holy Spirit to aid them.
“The pandemic brought us closer to each other and closer to God,” said Leo. “Everything was taken away and all we had was each other and, of course, God — who never left us. God needs to be an essential focus every time, everywhere.”