3 Tips For Maintaining Your Relationship During a Pandemic

Cou­ples Sur­vival Guide for COVID-19

Effec­tive inter­per­son­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion is hard. When you add in the chal­lenges and stres­sors of a glob­al pan­dem­ic, it can feel noth­ing short of impos­si­ble. You may find it more dif­fi­cult to respond to stress­ful sit­u­a­tions calm­ly. You may find your­self snap­ping at your part­ner or feel­ing like you just need some time to your­self. You may feel angri­er than nor­mal. Giv­en the unprece­dent­ed and uncer­tain times, that all makes sense. It’s impor­tant to rec­og­nize and val­i­date how you are feel­ing in order to work towards mean­ing­ful change with­in your relationship.

So how do we help keep our rela­tion­ships intact dur­ing this time? Here are 3 prac­ti­cal tips.

Prac­tice the pause

Take a moment before you auto­mat­i­cal­ly respond. Dur­ing times of high stress, we often have a ten­den­cy to respond defen­sive­ly. There are sig­nif­i­cant changes that can hap­pen in the brain, par­tic­u­lar­ly when we are in fight or flight mode (which, you guessed it, can absolute­ly be trig­gered when we are in a con­flict or are talk­ing about an emo­tion­al­ly-charged top­ic). Our pre­frontal cor­tex, the part of our brain we use to make ratio­nal deci­sions, tends to go offline” when we per­ceive a threat. When we take a pause and observe one or more deep breaths, we engage our parasym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem. This sys­tem is also known as the rest and digest” sys­tem and helps to reset our bod­ies to a state of calm. When we check in with our­selves and take a moment before respond­ing, we increase the like­li­hood that our com­mu­ni­ca­tion will be more effec­tive. Ask your­self these ques­tions before you start a conversation: 

  • Is it true? 
  • Is it necessary? 
  • Is it kind?

These ques­tions can help guide you when you are ques­tion­ing how to inter­act with your partner.

Iden­ti­fy your needs and assertive­ly describe them to those around you. 

How can we expect oth­ers to know what we need if we aren’t entire­ly sure our­selves? We some­times fall into the trap of feel­ing like our sig­nif­i­cant oth­er should” know what we are think­ing. After all, don’t they know us best? Resist this trap by rec­og­niz­ing that we are all com­pli­cat­ed indi­vid­u­als and it is not pos­si­ble, even for those who know us well, to be able to read our minds. It is up to us to explore what we need and to make that known. 

For exam­ple, instead of going radio silent because your part­ner hasn’t been help­ing around 

the house (even though he/​she is cur­rent­ly on a pan­dem­ic induced fur­lough and has loads more 

time on his/​her hands), con­sid­er express­ing your needs. Talk about how you are feel­ing. Try I am feel­ing real­ly over­whelmed with house­hold tasks. My expe­ri­ence is that a lot of the weight has been on my shoul­ders. How can we work togeth­er to help each of us feel more sup­port­ed and less over-bur­dened? It would real­ly help me if you could take over x, y, z (you fill in the blanks with tasks that, when tak­en off your plate, would be real­ly helpful). 

Engage with empa­thy and attribute the best pos­si­ble inten­tions to the behav­iors of others. 

Was your part­ner short with you or made an insen­si­tive com­ment upon see­ing you after work? You get to decide how you think about that inter­ac­tion. You can choose to iden­ti­fy with, What a jerk. His par­ents clear­ly nev­er taught him how to act.” You may also default to What did I do to make her mad?” Or, you can look at all the poten­tial caus­es of the behav­ior. Is it pos­si­ble that your part­ner was hold­ing on to a com­ment you made last night that he or she nev­er shared with you? Sure. What oth­er rea­sons might be dri­ving their behav­ior? Do a quick brain­storm­ing ses­sion and you’ll be amazed at the oth­er poten­tial con­tribut­ing rea­sons, which may include: he had bro­ken sleep because he was up wor­ry­ing about how to pay next month’s bills, she just received bad news from work and has­n’t had a chance to talk it through with you yet, some­one cut him off on the way home and he near­ly avoid­ed an acci­dent and his cor­ti­sol and adren­a­line lev­els are still very high.

Remem­ber, choos­ing empa­thy doesn’t mean you agree with or accept the behav­ior, it just means you make a deci­sion to think and sub­se­quent­ly act more rea­son­ably from a curi­ous per­spec­tive. Not only does engag­ing with empa­thy help your part­ner, but it helps you. Choos­ing a dif­fer­ent mind­set, one of empa­thy, can decrease the poten­tial for reac­tiv­i­ty and save you a lot of time and energy.

Pay atten­tion to how you feel when test­ing out some of these tips. You may find that your sense of frus­tra­tion and irri­tabil­i­ty is reduced, even if your part­ner isn’t chang­ing behav­iors to the degree you’d ulti­mate­ly hope. Effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion has to start some­time. If not now, when?