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relationship stress

Dealing with Relationship Stress and COVID 19

Dr. Dana McNeil
Latest posts by Dr. Dana McNeil (see all)

Quarantine doesn’t come with a rulebook. You’ve never had this type of relationship stress before, so it makes sense you will need new tools.

Uncertainty, fear, worry, lack of personal space, routine, and not knowing when this could all come to an end are going to cause conflict.
According to research, the average couple prior to home containment had one conflict per week. That was even with the ability to escape and go to work, to happy hour with friends, or to the gym! As a couples therapist, I expect you to have conflict. What’s important to note is how conflict increases with external and relationship stress. That doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a good job in your relationship, and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be together.

What it means is that you need to develop some tools for how to manage conflicts better – especially now in the midst of this crisis. In sessions with my clients, we work to develop ideas and tips for managing conflicts.

Here are three tips that can be really helpful to your relationship right now:

1) Accept that your partner has their own reality about this situation and allow them to have their own emotions.

Your partner is entitled to their own thoughts and feelings – neither of you is wrong. You are not the same people, and you view the world differently. You have different life experiences, expectations, families of origin, thoughts, feelings,
and beliefs. It’s the perfect storm for conflict.

It’s what we do while we are in this conflict that says everything about how we will weather this situation. If you have different views about how worried you think your partner
“should be” about the virus and how it might impact your family, this can be a potential conflict. You might want to take extra precautions, or you may seem more guarded with your children. Your partner, on the other hand, may have a hard time not feeling frustrated with you if they believe you are simply “overreacting.”

You are not in conflict because your partner doesn’t love you or is trying to be obstinate. You are in conflict because your views of a situation or your expectations are different.

Can you be curious instead of furious? Can you come to your partner with an open heart and try to understand what is driving their fear or frustration?

Finding something that you can validate about their worry or fear (and acknowledging it) does not necessarily mean you agree with them. Doing so and having this type of response will soothe the situation and ease relationship stress.

2) Compromise with your partner like someone who loves them. Is there a way that you can both get your needs met?

If you are the more laid back or less anxious partner, consider giving your partner the gift of helping them get their needs met. For example, if your partner wants to make sure that you open all of your boxes outside and you don’t care either way, why not go along with them? Would you be willing to give them the gift of having emotional safety right now when so little in the world makes sense or feels secure? Modeling unselfish behavior to help your partner meet their emotional needs tells them that you love them.

3) Make repair attempts.

Sometimes you may be really upset about the situation you are in at the time and not actually mad at your partner. You might lash out at your partner because they didn’t clean the counter or load the dishwasher the right way. It’s oftentimes not the issue that you are complaining about, but it’s something deeper. Perhaps you can be a little reflective and notice that what you are really upset about is being stuck in the house on a day when you would rather be on a hike, feeling anxious about your job, or not having enough money to pay your mortgage.

I encourage my clients to make repair attempts when they notice that while they have appeared to be upset with (or mad at) their partner, it was really the situation they were upset about. When you realize this is the case, you can make repair attempts by saying things to your partner like, “I am really
stressed about money, and I snapped at you. I really didn’t mean it.”

Another example of a repair attempt may be when you notice that you and your partner are starting to be short with each other and the conversation isn’t going well. You can always stop and say, “Hey, can we start over again? This doesn’t feel good.” The point is to acknowledge that you are not handling the conversation in a way that feels productive or in alignment with the person you want to be with your partner.

The Relationship Place is offering free remote consultations to ease individuals and relationship stress throughout the COVID-19 Shelter-In-Place. What better time to work with yourself and your relationships than while stuck at home? Schedule with us today!

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