Staying at Home: The Stress on Couples

Couples who are used to independence may struggle.

Posted Mar 30, 2020

While some men and women in the past may have wished for the ability to work from home, the impact of the coronavirus on society has, in many cases, required it. In an extremely short period of time, men and women from every ethnic and social demographic have been forced to do something rare: stay at home due to state-ordered mandates.

Put simply, we have no similar precedent in modern American life. While the health and economic impacts of coronavirus have been largely discussed, there has been less media attention to the psychological effects. As I provide mental health services, I have heard firsthand about the stress staying at home has caused existing relationships inside the home and for couples, especially.

Add to this a host of other stressors associated with coronavirus: completing work obligations remotely, for those to whom that applies; managing daily finances, considering that a couple's revenue may well be impacted by society's closures; obtaining food and preparing multiple meals each day; keeping the living space clean given that it is in constant use; and, of course, managing the emotional and real-world challenges of trying to stay safe and avoid infection. For couples with school-age children, they are managing all of the above while creating a never-before-necessary structure, overseeing new virtual homework demands, and monitoring the children 24 hours per day. Given such a lengthy list, it's clear how much stress coronavirus can cause live-in couples.

One way in which the coronavirus period can be challenging for couples has to do with social support. Specifically, many workers don't typically work at home. The structure of an in-person job usually allows for relationships with other employees, and seeing and interacting with others brings much-needed social support. Because of the current constraints, couples often aren't getting their social needs met by others, forcing each member to rely almost exclusively on the other for adult, in-person connection.

That kind of dynamic can put pressure on a couple, and the dynamic can cause even more stress and frustration for those who typically like to be very active or who have an active social life. In addition, men and women who have bad tempers or struggle with substance use may be even more likely to engage in maladaptive coping, factors that can exacerbate an already stressful environment.

Couples must remember to be as disciplined as possible in getting the exercise they can, and countless virtual cardio, dance, and yoga classes are being offered online. Making sure the body and mind are as balanced as possible will help to reduce frustration and improve one's overall mood. Couples should also be careful to take self-inventory when they can tell they need a little "down" or alone time, and that may involve taking a bath or shower, or putting on headphones and going to a quiet corner in the house or apartment to read, write or even listen to a guided meditation.

Most importantly, if a couple member finds themself feeling significantly frustrated, anxious, angry or depressed and the feelings don't seem to pass after a few hours or even a couple of days, reach out to a mental health provider. You'll find that scores of mental health professionals are offering versions of telephone or video therapy as a result of the crisis, and such services can be effective in reducing negative thoughts and feelings, and increasing one's sense of social connection.