By Matt Berman, MA, LPC
Assistant Director at Exceptional Wellness Counseling
“As a therapist who works with couples, I’ve seen how many couples are facing new challenges due to being quarantined during COVID-19.”
Some couples who were struggling prior to this difficult time have seen an increase in arguments and conflict. Others, who were the picture of a healthy and functional marriage (yes, they do exist!) are now experiencing problems. Many couples who work during the day are now fighting for office space in their homes. Throw in children, noisy pets (such as my tiny but loud jack russell terrier), as well as a lack of privacy, and it’s no surprise we are seeing increased stress and tension for some couples that didn’t exist before this time.
Some of the common issues that I’ve seen are couples who don’t agree on how cautious to be with social distancing or how much supplies to have on hand. Other common issues are figuring out a schedule that may involve full time jobs and parenting, and delegation of roles and responsibilities.
The strategies below may help maintain some sanity between you and your better half so you can come out of this pandemic even stronger and more connected.
No, you’re not going to have a night on the town or do dinner and a movie. But do make sure you schedule times for closeness and connection. Your dates might just look a little different. It might be ordering in some Chinese food and talking after the kids are put to bed. Or it might be throwing on some music and slow dancing in the living room. We are in very different times. It’s okay to get out of your comfort zone and do something different because of this.
Before the coronavirus, I would recommend couples schedule dates in advance. Often, when couples who struggled to connect and make time for their relationship would get to the weekend, it would be too late to plan something or get childcare. The weekend would pass and the date would never happen. Unfortunately, now the childcare might be YOU, but perhaps your child will just have to third wheel it on your date (until they are in bed).
Be sure to make time for closeness during the week. With every day feeling like Groundhog’s Day, it’s important to have scheduled events (no matter how small), to look forward to. My wife and I love going to the movies, so we decided last week that we would plan to heat up some popcorn and put on a movie on Friday night. Dates don’t need to be extravagant, whether it’s during or after the coronavirus. They just need to be an extended period of time of a shared experience without being glued to phones.
Take a Break
Do you feel that even though you’re stuck at home, you don’t have as much downtime as you expected? Tasks are feeling 10 times harder than they once were. Just about everything is feeling more difficult than pre-COVID-19. Due to lack of a commute, many are sleeping later but maybe also going to bed later and feeling less energy during the day. Many couples I’ve worked with are expressing that they don’t feel like their brains have turned off. Some parents are saying that they feel like they go from employee to parent and back again a thousand times in an hour.
As such they are having a difficult time adjusting to the rapid changes in responsibilities. Several articles have come out about “zoom fatigue” and how video conferencing calls have felt more exhausting than in person calls due to not being able to get as much visual information, causing our brains to be on overdrive with being fully present.
When you are getting to your limit, it’s important to let your partner know. Let them know that you are needing to take a half hour to go for a walk or maybe sit in the car to listen to some music or a podcast (such as the Headspace podcast https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/headspace/id1460218021). Do this BEFORE becoming more irritable towards your partner and feeling more burnt out.
Give the Benefit of the Doubt
John and Julie Gottman, famous researchers and practitioners of the Gottman method, one of the leading couples-styles of counseling, talk about something called the “emotional bank account.” This is the idea that if my partner has a majority of “positives in the bank,” I am more willing to overlook problems or not be as negatively affected by them. For instance, if I have felt mostly heard, respected, and loved by my partner, then when he/she zones out while I’m talking about something important (or makes a hurtful remark that he/she later apologies for), I’m more willing to forgive or accept my partner’s mistakes.
Understanding that your partner is human and being affected by several different issues, especially given the current circumstances, you might find that there are more moments of frustration between you and your partner. Accept that neither you nor your partner are exactly at your peak during this time, especially in regards to how well you communicate or what is expected in the relationship. Is it your partner’s turn to fold the laundry or make dinner tonight but they are simply too exhausted? Give them a hug and assure them that “we will survive if the towels aren’t put away.” “We can throw some leftovers in the microwave tonight.”
And DON”T personalize! When you’re on edge or feeling down, you may assume that your partner’s mood is because of something you did. I was working with a couple who both thought that the other was mad at them because they weren’t doing enough around the house. Turns out they were both worried about this and felt a sense of relief after sharing what they were worried about. They were able to be much easier on themselves after learning this.
This can’t be stressed enough!
One of the best indicators of a healthy relationship is a strong friendship and how much fun you have with your partner. Our idea of fun may be different now if your usual date night was trying out that new Thai restaurant or going out dancing with some friends. But fun IS still possible! Play a board game over candlelight. Try cooking or baking something together. Spend some time recounting old fun stories before you were married.
If it’s one thing that COVID-19 has done for many of us, is giving us more time together. You may not be used to seeing your partner as much as you are now and not too sure on how to best spend some of the extra time. Take advantage of this time before going back to the 9-5 schedule where you’d barely pass by each other in the morning and then only have enough time to catch up on a Netflix show at night.
Matt Berman is a dad to a two-year-old son. He is also a husband and proud dad to his adorable dog, Gambit (aka “Puppy,” according to Matt’s son). He loves to cook and play guitar. Matt is passionate about being a psychotherapist and the Assistant Director of Exceptional Wellness Counseling (EWC). EWC has locations in Manalapan and Shrewsbury, NJ and accepts a variety of insurances.
Check out Matt’s professional bio here!
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Next Steps & Resources
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Resources on the Gottman Method and techniques for you and your partner: https://www.gottman.com/about/the-gottman-method/