2020 has been a challenging year for most of us personally and certainly as a collective society. Between COVID-19 and the global pandemic, stay-at-home-orders, social distancing requirements and homeschooling children, as well as racial and social unrest, the fires and hurricanes, political dividedness and overall concerns about our safety and security, stress levels have significantly heightened as uncertainty increases in all facets of our lives.
And, all this stress, uncertainty and upheaval has taken its toll on many relationships. These extra stressors have increased tension in even the healthiest of partnerships. Tension makes it more difficult to communicate and connect. As stress build up, there’s a natural tendency to become more short-tempered and not as responsive to and caring of our significant others. And, this is particularly true for couples who were struggling with unaddressed and unresolved issues even before the onset of this unprecedented pandemic.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Couples
If you’re having a more difficult time connecting to, caring for and communicating with your partner, you are far from alone. In a New York Times article, I Don’t Know If My Relationship Will Survive the Pandemic, author Danielle Compoamor writes “as domestic pressures mount inside homes, we could see an uptick in more breakups, separations and divorces.”
Drawing from her own personal experience and challenges in her 7-year relationship with her partner, the father of her two children, she shares, “It was a pandemic that had left us sheltering in place for months, him risking exposure to continue to provide for his family as an essential worker, as I worked from home and picked up the parenting slack. Forced to live in close quarters without access to any outside support or reprieve, overwhelmed by the additional parenting responsibilities and unable to access any kind of affordable childcare, we were fighting more and understanding each other less. Amid all of this, I was left to contemplate whether or not my relationship could find a way to survive Covid-19.”
The experience of Compoamor and her partner is being echoed by married and partnered couples all over the country as stressors related to COVID-19 continue to increase. According to an Ipsos poll on how married and partnered couples are responding to the pandemic released on August 4, 2020:
- Thirty percent say they feel annoyed with their partner/spouse more than normal.
- One in five (22 percent) are fighting more than normal with their partner/spouse.
- Twenty-seven percent report knowing someone likely to break up, separate, or divorce when the coronavirus pandemic ends.
- Nearly one in ten (9 percent) married or partnered people say they are personally likely to separate from their partner/spouse at least in part because of issues related to the pandemic.
While these statistics are unfortunate, although not unexpected, the good news is that there are things that you can do to help foster stronger connection and communication with your partner in the midst of all this heightened stress and uncertainty.
Effective and Heartfelt Ways to Navigate the Pandemic and Relationships
I’ve been married and couples therapist for a very long time now, and I’ve witnessed professionally and personally experienced how important it is to maintain an openly communicative, responsive and caring relationship with your partner. However, I also understand that this is definitely much more easily said than done and extreme challenges, such as what we’re facing with the effects of COVID-19, can make feeling connected to our partners far more difficult. Yet, while certainly more difficult, it’s not impossible to strengthen your relationship with your spouse or partner during these uncertain and high-tension times.
The Following Tips Can Help:
Cultivate new coping strategies
For almost all of us, the pandemic changed our lifestyles dramatically, including losing many of the coping strategies that we put in place to help mitigate stress, as well as quell anxiety and depression symptoms. Perhaps your gym or yoga studio was closed. Or maybe a social group you loved to attend was shut down. Now is the time to get innovative and develop new ways to cope. A lot of what is no longer available in-person is available online. While it’s not the same, it’s something. Another option is to get outside regularly. It costs nothing to take a walk, yet spending time in the sunshine and moving your body can release and reduce stress, helping you to feel more at ease and able to be more receptive to your partner.
Spend time together … and apart
With so many of us now working from home, kids engaging in online learning and social spaces compromised, our homes can begin to feel increasingly tight and us claustrophobic within them. It’s more important than ever to find and take time for yourself. Whether it’s a walk, a meditation practice or finding a quiet space in your home for reading or reflection, it’s healthy to take time for yourself to regroup.
Equally important, however, is to designate time to spend with each other and with your family if you have children. Find fun things to do that you enjoy, whether that be playing a game, such as chess or tennis, listening to music or watching a movie or favorite television show.
Seek support from people other than each other
Too much closeness, even with our significant other, is normally not a healthy thing. Nor is relying on just one person for support. We all have needs and, as humans, we grow, learn, heal and flourish in the company of others. Even if you’re not able to engage with friends, family and members of your community in-person, commit to staying connected. Call a family member on the phone. Schedule a zoom tea or coffee date. Reach out to a trusted friend to talk through a stressor or challenge. Staying connected to others outside your home and your relationship can go a long way in helping to enliven and relax you.
Share fond memories
Talk with your partner about aspects of your relationship that you recall fondly. Deepen your loving connection by sharing loving memories what you appreciate about each other. This type of sharing can help you reaffirm your relationship, especially if it’s becoming increasingly tense.
Talk to each other
If you’re struggling with something or simply want to connect with your loved one, set time aside in which you will not be interrupted to talk with him or her, even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day. It’s important that we all feel supported and listened to, especially in these times. And, take time to listen, really listen, to your partner when he or she asks for you support. Doing so and such with regularity can help strengthen your bond, deepen your understanding of each other and increase closeness.
Cultivate your personal wholeness
The more you realize that your partner is not and will never be the total source of your wellbeing, the healthier your relationship will be and the more alive and complete you will feel. Take time each day to be with your own lovability and feel into your sense of wholeness.
Ask for help
If you find yourself really struggling in your relationship and/or individually, reach out. It truly is okay to ask for help, and most of us need it more than ever these days. I’m offering socially-distanced, safe individual therapy and couples therapy sessions in my New York City and Weston, Connecticut offices. I’m also offering sessions through a confidential teletherapy platform if you’d prefer to meet online.
There is hope for healing, happiness and tremendous growth in these unprecedented times. If you’re interested in gaining insights, tools and strategies to help increase closeness in your relationship as you weather this pandemic storm, please contact me today. I’m happy to discuss your needs, goals and how I could best support you and your partner.