Couples are under stress during COVID-19 pandemic

Our partnerships are also under stress during this time. As a couple’s therapist, I work to support partners in rediscovering connection and intimacy. When couples communicate reactively from emotions like anger and jealousy rather than the underlying primary emotions, like sadness and fear, it can trigger a negative interaction cycle where both partners can feel disconnected and alone. When there is added stress of job security, homeschooling children, caring for elderly parents, or the death of someone close, these interaction cycles can be exacerbated.

During this time here are some practical things couples can do to protect their relationship:

Use “I” statements. Expressing your feelings and taking responsibility for your actions is more likely to get you heard, especially during moments of conflict. “I am feeling sad we did not have dinner together” will more likely be well-received than the “You always miss our dinners together” because it does not put the other person on the defensive and feel attacked.

Be Generous. Now more than ever it is important to offer your partner some grace. Maybe they forgot to put the dishes away, not because they are intentionally being a jerk but they are also under tremendous stress.

Set Boundaries. Before the stay-at-home order, both you and your partner likely left the house for work or other activities, creating space in your relationship, and requiring you to be intentional about creating space for each other. Now that we are home all day, time blends. How might you continue to give each other time to be alone?

Foster Connection. Here are a few ideas you can try that might increase the feeling of connection between you and your partner. Leave notes for each other, share a bottle of wine on the porch while your kids watch a movie, take an online dance class, discover a new board game together. The possibilities are endless.

Seek Support. You may or may not have the bandwidth to go digging into the meat of your relationship, but many couples are finding it helpful to have professional support to navigate this time. This can also give you the time and space to work through the underlying anxieties and stresses that you are both facing.

Highlight your strengths. Celebrate what brought you together. Your resilience in your partnership, whether you cook together, parent well, laugh together, or are supportive of each other, these are important to remember. These will provide reinforcements during these challenging times.

Domestic Violence is real.

If you are reading this and are in an abusive relationship, please see the resources below. We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-7233. Lifewire (425) 746-1940.

This pandemic is testing all of us. It is normal if you notice that you and your partner are returning to some old patterns. Slow down, check-in with each other, and remember to breathe.

Jaya Ramesh is a couple’s therapist at Catalyst Counseling in Woodinville

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