For some couples, COVID-19 actually helped them thrive. They were able to finally spend quality time together, get around to household projects, and reignited the spark.
That wasn’t the case for everyone in a relationship though. The pandemic drove couples to break-up, get a divorce, or seek help. There are a number of reasons why ranging from stress about finances and health to simply getting tired of each other.
Regardless of the exact cause, the last year has been difficult for relationships. But, you can use the following seven strategies to keep your relationship healthy during COVID.
1. Practice the Pause.
“Take a moment before you automatically respond,” recommends Nicolette Mireles, LCPC. “During times of high stress, we often have a tendency to respond defensively. There are significant changes that can happen in the brain, particularly when we are in fight or flight mode (which, you guessed it, can absolutely be triggered when we are in a conflict or are talking about an emotionally-charged topic).”
“Our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain we use to make rational decisions, tends to go ’offline’ when we perceive a threat,” adds Mireles. “When we take a pause and observe one or more deep breaths, we engage our parasympathetic nervous system. This system is also known as the ’rest and digest’ system and helps to reset our bodies to a state of calm. When we check in with ourselves and take a moment before responding, we increase the likelihood that our communication will be more effective.”
Before engaging in a heated conversation, ask yourself the following questions:
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?
“These questions can help guide you when you are questioning how to interact with your partner,” says Mireles.
2. Get Curious, Not Furious
This is a common mantra to not only stop conflicts but replace them with something more productive -- mainly understanding their intentions and actions.
“You could get curious and ask your partner some questions, but I recommend getting used to questioning yourself first,” suggests Joy Heafner, Ph.D., LMFT. “Self-reflective curiosity can help you see the bigger picture of your problem, take control over your side of the situation, and develop empathy for your partner’s point of view.”
According to Dr. Heafner, here are three places for you to start:
What does my anger look like?
What’s really going on with me?
What’s going on with my partner, deep down?
“These questions are tough to answer, especially where there’s a history of hurt feelings and confusion,” says Dr. Heafner. However, they’re essential when if you want to genuinely know yourself and your partner.
In short, the next time your partner has done something to upset you, ask them what’s going and listen to them without being or making assumptions.
3. Be Willing To Compromise
It may seem that you and your partner can’t agree on anything. But, it’s alright for you to have opposing view and philosophies. In fact, this can be beneficial as it allows for different perspectives, balances bias, and invokes problem-solving.
At the same time, when you can’t come to an understanding, try to compromise by finding common ground, such as mutual goals. For example, right now the health of your family is your top prioity. Even though you have different opinions, this is something that you both agree on. Knowing that, you can work on ways to remain healthy during the pandemic.
We’ve been spending a lot more time at home. For some, that might not be an issue. Others, however, may be getting a severe case of cabin fever. In either case, it would be beneficial to have different “zones” in your house, such as an area strictly for work and another that you use for physical activity.
This can help establish boundaries and create a sense of autonomy. But, you need to be respectful of these “zones.” For example, if you have an important Zoom call from 11 am to 11:30 am, let your partner know in advance so that they will not disrupt you. The same is true if they need to use the workspace for a specific period of time.
Another part of respect is practicing gratitude and praising each other. Just make sure that these are specific and sincere. If so, it’s a simple and effective way for you to show your appreciation.
5. Plan Activities Together
While certainly difficult during COVID, it’s still possible. Youl could take a long car ride, go hiking, or plan a date night at home by ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant and watch a new movie on Netflix. You could also plan a virtual game night with friends or family. And, you may even come up with a list of activities you could once it’s safe to do so.
6. Take Care of Yourself
Self-care is absolutely essential right now. Remember, you can’t take care of others when you always put yourself last.
In addition to planning fun activities with your partner, also spend time alone doing the things that you enjoy. It could be reading a book, yoga, or talking to your best friend on the phone. And, don’t forget the basics like sticking to a regular sleep schedule, eating nutritious, and finding healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety.
7. Consider Couples Counseling
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional like a therapist or couples counselor who can help remove relationship roadblocks, promote self-awareness, and help you both clarify your feelings.
And, thanks to teletherapy, you can speak with a professional without leaving the safety of your home.