How to Keep Your Marriage Healthy Amid the Crisis.
Michael Brown, MSC, LMFT
As we enter the second month of social distancing and “shelter in place” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all feeling stressed and perhaps our nerves are raw and frayed. We are feeling cooped up and isolated in our homes. Perhaps we are afraid of getting sick or worried about losing our jobs or have already lost our jobs and are worried about paying the bills. Perhaps being around our partner and our children 24/7, we are becoming easily annoyed with each other’s idiosyncrasies and shortcomings and highly sensitive to any perceived criticism or slight. We know that stresses like these can be devastating for relationships.
Therefore, what can we do to keep love alive and safe during this time of COVID-19. Here are seven things that you can do to protect and enhance your relationship during this time.
Your partner may feel anxious or highly stressed, perhaps worried about getting sick or about the finances. Take turns as listener and speaker. Be a good listener and ask questions to better understand how your partner is feeling. Don’t try to fix the problem or bring up your own problems. Remember, understanding must precede advice.
- Show Empathy
We often think that empathy means showing pity or feeling sorry. It is not that at all. Empathy means hearing what your partner is saying and how they are feeling, identifying their feelings, and then validating their feelings by saying something like, “It makes sense to me that you are worried because of …” This is the best way to reduce your partner’s stress because then they don’t feel alone in their feelings.
- Look for what’s right
It’s easy to get stressed when you focus on what is annoying about your partner. Resist the temptation and instead notice when your partner does something right and then acknowledge it. It can be as simple as, “You made coffee for me. Thank you.”
- Share fondness and admiration
Let your partner know that you find them beautiful, handsome, caring. Call out what you love about your partner, not just what they are doing. Make a conscious effort each day tell your partner about at least one aspect of their personality or character that you are fond of or admire.
- Time-out works for adults too.
With the COVID-19 crisis, arguments could get more heated. It is important to know when to take a break. If either of you is starting to become physiologically aroused, it is time to take a break. Ask your partner for a 30-minute break so that you can calm down. Go to separate places and don’t think about the fight. Don’t think about your rebuttal or rehearse distress-maintaining thoughts. Instead, do something distracting. Read a book, listen to calm music, meditate, or practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. This is the only way that your body can calm down so that you are no longer in fight or flight mode. You can think clearly again and return to the conversation with a different brain.
- Use softened startup
We know that how you start a conflict discussion largely determines how it will end. So, if you start harshly with criticism or blaming, it is likely to end poorly. Instead, use softened startup, which consists of “I feel…(followed by a feeling word),” “about what” (describe the situation as objectively as possible), and “I need…” (stating a positive need or request). So, if you are upset because your partner has left the kitchen a mess, instead of saying, “You are too lazy to clean up the kitchen,” try saying, “I’m upset that the kitchen is a mess again. Could you please clean it up for me?”
- Be creative and do fun things together
Experiment with cooking, painting, singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, playing board or role-play games together. Do things that are fun, creative, or playful together.
We will get through this crisis, one way or another. Hopefully, we will come out of this crisis feeling more connected to and more appreciative and fonder of our partner than before this crisis, not less.
© 2020 Michael Brown, MSC, LMFT, dba Happy Couples Healthy Communities