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9 Tips for Navigating Relationship Stress During COVID

COVID has added relationship stress to many couples and coping can be difficult.

We are approaching eight months of pandemic life. For some, this means a relentless routine of virtual living and socially distanced interactions that may leave you feeling slightly unsatisfied.

Paradoxically, our new world of ongoing separateness and space does not necessarily occur for married or partnered couples. You may find yourself spending more time than before with your spouse or partner at home. Too much togetherness may leave you screaming, “When is this going to end?”

Here are a few tips to help you deal with relationship stress while you cope with the effects of the COVID pandemic.

Acknowledge what is happening.

A global pandemic creates an environment of uncertainty, lack of control, and fear. This, in turn, heightens negative emotions or stress. You may feel like you want to crawl out of your skin, pick a fight, or go, just go, anywhere. Or, you may feel so fatigued and numb that simple daily tasks feel burdensome. People miss the normalcy and comfort of pre-pandemic routines.

Acknowledge that you and your partner are coping together under atypical circumstances and everyone is feeling it. Naming this will help dissipate possible emotional reactivity that leads to heightened disagreements and resentments.

Be mindful.

Be aware of your thoughts and feelings because they drive your behaviors. Feeling irritable and thinking, “My boyfriend is so annoying” may influence how you treat your partner. Without mindful awareness, you are less likely to engage in simple behaviors that foster emotional attunement and trust. Being aware of your thoughts and feelings creates the opportunity for them to pass by without acting on them.

Inevitably, you may feel mad at your partner and think unflattering thoughts, which is normal and okay. However, engaging in behaviors that are hurtful or push your partner away will only make the current circumstances more difficult for both of you and jeopardize the health of your relationship.

Be compassionate toward yourself and your partner.

Avoid judging your feelings and thoughts. Simply acknowledge them with a sense of care and appreciation. Be gentle and kind toward yourself as you navigate how to cope with all that is happening.

Remember that your partner also is experiencing stress, fear, and anxiety during this pandemic. Maybe they are worried about finances or the complicated logistics of life now. Be sensitive and empathic to these worries and hardships.

Nobody has done this before, there is no instruction manual, and no right way exists. Compassion breeds emotional connection and helps alleviate some of the worry and strain caused by excessive time together.

Be flexible and open.

Try to be open and flexible during these unsettling times. Holding on to rigid thought patterns can contribute to frustration and a sense of perceived superiority, which both create relational disconnection. Trying to maintain high expectations of normalcy, from yourself or your partner, when personal circumstances are exceptional sets you up for disappointment and grief. Instead, be gentle and strive to bend around the challenges.

Take time for yourself.

Humans thrive in positive relationships. However, in order to maintain healthy relationships and a sense of identity, taking time to yourself is important, especially now when too much togetherness can sometimes create emotional distance. Develop an understanding with your partner that being alone is acceptable and a healthy way to maintain a sense of self.

Seek relational connections outside of your home.

Social support and human connection soothe our stress response, reduces a sense of isolation, and gives us purpose and meaning, all of which strengthen resilience. It is unrealistic for your partner to meet all of your social and relational needs. Tensions can actually rise if you place this burden on them.

Create playfulness.

If every day is starting to feel like Groundhog’s Day and tensions are rising in your household, try infusing playfulness and fun into the daily routine. Sharing novel experiences and playfulness brings couples closer together and alleviates stress in relationships. Playfulness can be as simple as a morning routine that includes a silly greeting or as elaborate as learning a new skill together. Either way, try infusing this into your relationship.

Get fresh air daily.

Fresh air and nature soothe the stress response, so get outside, sit on the porch, go for a walk, open the window or listen to birds. Connect to the outdoors in any way that works for you. The power of nature—hearing and seeing animals, feeling the sun, gazing at the stars, smelling flowers, feeling a breeze—also can improve your mood. Being compassionate and kind toward your partner is easier with a pleasant mood.

Forgive freely.

The occasional disagreement or relational jab is inevitable for most couples living under stressful conditions. However, under pandemic conditions the likelihood of significant fighting increases. To recover from the fights loaded with psychological defenses and percolating with emotional volatility, forgive quickly and easily. Extreme and prolonged strain can illuminate the shadow side of our best qualities. As long as you and your partner are not engaging in emotional or physical violence, be quick to forgive and move forward.

The pressures of pandemic life can burden even the strongest relationship. The realities of life—financial, work, family stressors, among many more—can jeopardize the peace and connection in your relationship. Yet, throughout time, humans demonstrate remarkable resilience to overcome hardships and draw closer together. Eventually, the pandemic will pass, tensions will ease, and you will still have each other.