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Relationship Turmoil or the Saving Grace of COVID-19?

What if this time at home during COVID-19 is what actually saves your marriage?

March 19 marked the first orders in the United States to shelter in place. Implemented in California, and later in most other states, this mandate has marked the beginning of an incredibly traumatic spiral for many. But let’s talk about why.

For those with anxiety, the tolls associated with the coronavirus have hit hard because anxiety has historically revolved around three critical elements: finances, health, and safety. As the news reports daily, the financial picture for many is bleak. It is estimated, globally, that the financial toll of the coronavirus will exceed $1 trillion, with some forecasting the devastation to reach $2 trillion. To take this a step further, million of people have permanently lost their jobs.

For those experiencing anxious thoughts, many report a fear of the future. It doesn’t take an anxious person, however, to be keenly aware of the number of people who have also lost their health as a result of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization reports more than 50,000 individuals have died as a result of the coronavirus with more than 890,000 cases of confirmed COVID-19. Imagine how quickly these numbers would skyrocket if we begin counting those who are asymptomatic, the carriers who don’t even know they are infected. Again, heartbreaking.

Let’s consider now, how fear for one’s safety may also impact someone with anxious thoughts. In interviewing a number of individuals, it was revealed that many in the medical profession fear for the lives of their families, worried they may bring home the virus, unknowingly. Building workers, drivers, restaurant employees, caregivers, and many others alike have all shared a similar sentiment. What is so incredibly powerful, however, is the profound impact this anxious turmoil is having on relationships.

Choosing Love in a COVID Time
Source: Shutterstock

For some, the trifecta of financial fears, health fears, and safety fears parallel nothing they have ever seen. Without a reference for how to cope, many are turning their anxieties into fuel for destruction, giving way to anger, and wreaking havoc on the relationships in their lives. While anxiety and anger are different in terms of emotional responses, they have been shown to have some overlap, cognitively, biologically, and socially. Given that anxiety perpetuates the fear of the unknown, one will overestimate the extent of a threat, but in our current climate, we know these fears to be real and rational. Despite this, like so many with anxiety, those who continue to struggle underestimate their ability to actually cope with these threats. The anxiety then acts as a catalyst for the anger. Add to this the inability to find time away from each other, as we socially isolate, and you can see how anxious thoughts, turned angry, could exacerbate relational turmoil quickly.

Rather than end up with a divorce boom in nine months, there are steps you can take to put yourself in check:

  1. Come up with a proactive plan for dealing with one another, together. Set up the terms of engagement while you are at home without a break from one another. To do this, define GOALS, ROLES, and RULES. This is a perfect conversation starter because each person can give an opinion as to what they need. Once you know what it is you want to happen, together you can agree who will take on what roles. Finally, define what the rules are, that work for both of you. Consider several scenarios… just in case.
  2. When the time comes, give each other space. Make a commitment to separate at any time necessary. Even if you are in a studio apartment, agree to go to neutral corners if things get heated. Set a timer and take some time to cool down.
  3. Get outside and go for a walk. Just like no one walks their way to sadness, no one walks themselves into an argument. This is primarily related to the neurotransmitters, endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all being released during exercise.
  4. Find something to laugh at. Whether it is a movie, old photos, a joint session of TikTok, just find something that makes you laugh, together.
  5. Be grateful. Many people spend an inordinate amount of time wishing they had the one thing that is always elusive, more time. More time with family, with friends, and with their partners. Consider the fact, like it or not, the one thing we are all being given by staying at home is more time. Be thankful for the opportunity to improve your relationship during this time. Find the silver lining and give it all your effort. After all, who knows how much longer you have at home, together.

When things go back to some semblance of normalcy, will you be wishing for more time or grateful for the time you didn't waste?

Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock

More from Karla Ivankovich Ph.D., M.A.
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