Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, couples are spending more time together. Therefore, couples have become each other’s primary source of companionship and support. While some couples have utilized the quarantine period to reconnect, others have experienced relational distress due to the increased reliance and stress. Specifically, both partners may be facing personal stress due to transitioning or losing jobs, increased responsibilities, child care, etc.
Four main things have been identified as causes for the increase in conflict, including criticism, perceived increased demands, perceived rejection, and cumulative annoyances. One of the major conflict issues is criticism. One partner may be more critical than the other, which may increase the chances that a simple discussion can turn into an argument. Increased demands, which may be viewed as excessive, may increase arguments. Specifically, one partner may perceive these extra chores (extra dishes, laundry, increased childcare, etc.) as excessive and source of stress. Perceived rejection is defined as seeking support or attention from our partner and not receiving the expected response. Finally, cumulative annoyances are the little things that build up over time. For example, not putting the toilet seat down, or leaving dishes clutter the sink. In the context of COVID, we are faced with the cumulative annoyances 24/7.
How do we manage this relational distress in the face of COVID? Here are a few tips:
Reduce expectations and remember that everyone is stressed and worried right now. This includes being compassionate toward yourself and partner. Additionally, avoid judging your feelings and thoughts.
Be flexible. Holding on to rigid thoughts and behaviors can increase frustration and can lead to further disconnection between partners. Bend around the challenges rather than breaking because of them.
Recognize your stressors. Be aware of what causes you to feel more frustrated with yourself and your partner. This is important because when our stress is low, communication is not as affected by our emotions. However, when our stress increases, our happiness goes down as communication deteriorates. Further, stress effects how couples are able to push through their irritations and support each other.
Make time for fun. Even short periods of time together can help the relationship. Try spending some time outside.
Maintain your own self-care routine. It’s important to maintain regular sleeping hours, waking up on time, making the bed, getting dressed and schedule regular breaks.
If you are working at home, keep your workday limited to the workday. Create a boundary between yourself and work to address stress management.
Beware of substance use and abuse. Too much substance use can impact a healthy relationship
Broaden your support system. Stay connected with family and friends while utilizing technology to maintain distance! Maybe try organizing a virtual family game night!
Sometimes arguments are unavoidable. Here are some tips to help navigate those waters:
Check your anger. Angry confrontations can be harmful to the relationship. Check how you’re feeling and your tone of voice. If you’re feeling angry and your tone reflects this, take a 10-minute break. Try taking a few breaths or drink a cold glass of water to relax.
While it is important to take a few moments, it’s also important to not let your emotions bottle up.
When having a conversation with your partner, utilize I statements. Avoid you or blaming statements. For example: “I feel that behavior was problematic” rather than “you did this wrong…”
Utilize active listening skills. Each partner should have a set time to speak. Before the second person is allowed to speak, they have to reflect or repeat what their partner said. This helps avoid misunderstandings and encourages active listening.
If you and your significant other believe that your experience has become “too much” during the pandemic: Call your healthcare provider or therapist. If your stress impacts your daily activities for several days in a row please reach out to a professional to learn about additional resources.