The latest research shows that the COVID-19 crisis is either bringing marriages closer together as spouses lean on each other or it is tearing marriages apart. Police officers are reporting more cases of domestic violence and attorneys are having more clients file for divorce since the onset of this pandemic. There is no doubt that this time in our lives is a time of high stress for individuals and couples. Financial strain, chaos in the home, job loss, and illness can all take an extreme toll on a marriage or relationship. As stress and anxiety rise, good communication can become difficult as spouses feel that they have unmet needs and desires during this time. So, how can we work through these high stress times in a healthy way? How can couples draw closer to one another for support during this time instead of letting the stress put a wedge between them? Here are 5 tips to help manage your relationship during this pandemic:
- Spend time together.
This may seem strange to think about, especially if you and your spouse are working from home or in the house all day together as you are self isolating. However, there is a big difference between being in a space together and spending time together. We want to encourage you to make time during the week to check in with your spouse or partner and connect with him or her. Perhaps you do this in the morning before your workday starts or in the evening before bedtime. Maybe you have lunch together on a certain day of the week. Whatever time works for you, we encourage you to schedule some time weekly to check in. Some couples like to have a set check in question that they ask each week such as “How are you on a scale of 1-10 right now?” or “What has been your high point and low point of this week?” or “What is one way that I can help you right now?” Having this set time to converse with your spouse will help keep you connected even if you are quarantined at home together. You also want to make time to have fun with your spouse. Maybe you put the kids to bed early on a Saturday night and grill out on the back deck. Another idea is to have a game night with your spouse or watch a funny TV show together. Make it a point to do something that encourages fun and laughter so that the two of you can put the stress aside and enjoy just being together.
- Begin conversations with a soft start up as opposed to a harsh start up. When communicating with your spouse or significant other, the beginning tone of the conversation is telling as to how the conversation will end. If you come to your spouse and immediately begin a conversation with a criticism, he or she is likely to become defensive or shut down. Sarcasm, name calling, critical judgments, and unloading extreme emotions are all unhealthy ways to begin a conversation. In fact, research shows that when an individual becomes overwhelmed with an attack or an extreme flood of emotions, he or she goes into shut down mode or fight or flight mode. This is typically the opposite reaction of what we are looking for from our spouse. Alternatively, we should begin a conversation with a startup that is not critical or emotionally charged. One way to do this is to use “I statements.”
- Use “I statements” when communicating. “I statements” are statements used to communicate feelings in a way that expresses emotions and feelings in a healthy way and helps to communicate your needs. “I statements” work this way. The blanks are filled in with your specific emotions and needs. “I feel __________ because __________. I need you to ________.” An example of this may be: “I feel frustrated when you walk out of the room when the children are fighting because it leaves me to handle the situation by myself. I need you to help me deal with the kids when they have conflict.” Immediately, your spouse will know how you are feeling and what behaviors are causing these feelings. Your spouse will also know what he or she can do to help you in this situation. Your feelings, emotions, and needs are all being communicated when you use “I statements.” When frustrated, most couples begin communicating with accusatory statements. Try using an “I statement” the next time that you are frustrated with your partner instead of unloading on him or her.
- Use “reflective listening.” We often become very focused on ourselves and what we want to say or get across to our partner. Sometimes, our spouse may be saying something to us, but we are too busy focusing on ourselves to even hear what he or she is saying. It is important to really listen to your spouse and hear what he or she is trying to communicate to you. One strategy to help you do this is something we called “reflective listening.” In “reflective listening” you will reflect back to your spouse what you heard him or her say. For example, if your spouse begins telling you that he is frustrated that you do not help with the dishes after dinner, you could then say, “So what I’m hearing is that you are frustrated that you have to do the dishes every night and you want some help.” This then helps your spouse feel heard and as if his or her feelings are cared about. It also gives you the chance to respond with a question such as “How can I help you with this?” The next time your spouse tries to communicate a problem or emotion to you, try using reflective listening to make sure you are truly hearing and understanding your spouse.
- Be thankful for your spouse. It is much easier for us to think of negative aspects about our spouse than positive ones. We often take our partner for granted and fail to appreciate the positive qualities that he or she has. Make it a daily habit of thanking your spouse for who he or she is and the ways that he or she helps you. Even if your spouse takes out the trash every single day, make it a point to say “thank you for taking out the trash.” I encourage you to stop and make a list of all of the qualities and characteristics that you appreciate about your spouse. Then, take a few of these each day and thank your spouse verbally or with a note. Incorporating more gratitude into your marriage or relationship will go a long way in helping you to create and maintain a mutual respect for one another.
If your marriage or relationship is struggling, please give us a call. The therapists at Water’s Edge Counseling are passionate about helping couples work through their relationship issues. We understand the strain and stress that many marriages are facing right now, and we are here to help. Give us a call at 912-319-5552.