As a couples’ therapist and practice owner, I’ve noticed a dramatic upswing in calls from couples requesting therapy. The stresses due to the pandemic and the economy are causing so much angst and uncertainty. Add in children and you compound the difficulties of social isolation and insecurity during COVID-19 and in 2020.
At my private practice in Toledo, Ohio the phone has been ringing off the hook from couples everywhere are on the edge and struggling due to the side effects of COVID-19. Couples are being weighed down by the amount of time they are now spending together with their significant other in close quarters, uncertainty about the future, parenting challenges, financial worries, and fear of getting sick.
As a parent, being alone at home with, very likely, only the company of children and a significant other right now may feel overwhelming, exhausting, depressing, or lonely. Reaching out to our significant other for comfort and support is a logical choice, but with the emotional strain of the global pandemic, our partners are likely struggling too. This recent increase in stress can lead to more frequent disagreements, disappointments, conflict, and arguments. To assist partners to deepen their connection with their spouse or significant other, and even thrive, during this time, I am recommending five no-fail ideas to help create a strong relationship foundation.
1. Move Your Bodies Together: Time spent together working in the yard, or simply taking a walk together will help you connect. Not only are you carving out intentional time for each other, but you are also raising endorphins together while building emotional intimacy through conversation. It doesn’t have to be intense discussion—simply exchanging thoughts and stories is enough. So, get those sneakers on and get moving, and holding hands never hurt anyone either.
2. Step Away from the Remote and Shut off the Electronics: The glowing screens of televisions, phones, tablets, and video games can be real relationship killers. The number of couples I see in therapy who mention their partner’s obsession with social media, online gambling, adult videos, or gaming apps is higher than ever. Take responsibility if you are one of the guilty ones. These activities are fun and highly addictive. They are created that way so advertisers can make money from the people who are addicted. Try being counter-cultural and carve out screen-free time in your home. Pick times of the day, or days of the week where you commit to being electronics-free. Make plans to go to a farmer’s market, cook dinner from a new recipe, visit a local park, work together on a home improvement project: anything but stare mindlessly at a screen while ignoring each other.
3) Spend Time Talking and Learn More about Each Other:As a couples’ counselor who, myself, has been with the same man for 27 years, I am continually amazed that I learn new things about his life before me. There are so many stories to share: from our childhoods, our years in high school, our families of origin, our hometowns, and more. Ask questions beyond “What should we have for dinner tonight?” to try and draw more from your conversation time together. “What’s your happiest holiday story?” , “What’s your most vivid memory from third grade?” , “Which was your favorite grandparent?”, “What got you in the most trouble as a kid?” Continuing to get to know your partner, even after decades together, will continue to strengthen the bond you share.
4. Allow Space for Emotions and Process Feelings Together: Whether you or your partner is the one feeling frustrated, sad, hopeless, angry, or irritated with all the changes thrown our way because of the pandemic, go with it. It’s important to feel and process our emotions, otherwise, we get caught in an unhealthy pattern of stuffing our feelings down and numbing them with food, alcohol, shopping, and other maladaptive coping skills. There is great significance in discussing with your partner how you feel, and what you think is at the root of those emotions. Allow space for your partner to do the same with you. Take an attitude of curiosity: don’t seek to fix the problem or rescue your partner from their emotion. Simply ask questions and give them space to share their thoughts. This builds trust, connection, and ultimately greater closeness.
5. Be There for Each Other by Offering Practical Support: So many people in therapy report feeling lonely right now. Even in a partnership, while quarantined in the same house, we can feel isolated and alone. Take the time to check in with your spouse or significant other by specifically asking “How can I support you today? How can I be a good friend for you right now? Is there something you could use my help with?” Showing you care by offering yourself as a helper to your partner can create greater trust and commitment for couples. Letting your person know that you have their best interest at heart is a sure-fire way to increase positive, loving feelings between the two of you. A great friendship is at the core of every epic love story. Strengthening the friendship we have with our partner by helping them with a chore, holding them when they are sad, listening when they want to talk, or watching a funny movie when they need to laugh are small ways we can deepen our friendship with the people we love.
A romance that survives the stress brought on by a global pandemic is good, but a romance that thrives despite the stressors of this time is even better. Choosing to make time to connect with our partner is an intentional decision. With the stressors of modern life, putting time and effort into our most important relationship is something that we need to constantly prioritize. Make a commitment to follow these simple tips so that you can not only make this time of social isolation bearable but maybe even a time that the two of you look back on warmly as you remember the ways in which you intentionally grew closer together.