Can Your Relationship Survive the Coronavirus?

Posted: April 18, 2020 in Did you know?

BB12GBDkThere are things that would be annoying to each other on a regular day, but lock us in a house together with our kids and a “Stay at Home” order and it’s the most annoying thing that has ever happened. Like many couples, we’ve joked about how we’ll be filing for divorce when this pandemic is over. But for some couples staying at home together with kids is a challenge they may feel they can’t overcome.

Breakups during the coronavirus crisis

As couples in China began to emerge from quarantine, a number of them headed straight to divorce lawyers. Chinese officials reported that divorce filings were higher than normal in March. Anecdotally, I’ve talked to quite a few people who say their partner is getting on their last nerve.

Living together, helping kids with schoolwork, and working from home (or having the stress of no work) with no clear timeline for when things will get back to normal is not an easy road to navigate. I went looking for guidance from Lori Gottlieb, psychotherapist and author of the NYTimes Bestseller, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.

So how do you know if what you’re feeling is a genuine need to get out of a relationship or just a reaction to the stressful times we’re living in?

This is not the time to make a big life decision about the state of your marriage. Everything we’re feeling may be amplified because of what we’re going through, she said. Or feelings that we’ve had all along are coming to the surface. It’s better to wait and see how we feel once things are closer to back to normal. Or closer to normal.

Tips for couples during Covid-19

In the meantime, there are a few things couples can do. First, know that things are out of the ordinary. “I think that people need to manage their expectations around life being normal. It’s going to be different,” Gottlieb advised.

When couples work from home together for the first time, it’s important to make accommodations for each other. And be communicative about what accommodations you need. Don’t expect that your partner knows what you’re thinking.

“A lot of people just aren’t saying it the first few times and then it gets to the point where they just lose it and then the whole tenor of the household changes because people are screaming at each other,” Gottlieb said.

One thing that can be difficult for parents is the lack of privacy. Many families are spending a lot of time together in one room. Everyone needs time to themselves and it’s okay to ask for it, she said.

As part of that time, make sure and keep in touch with friends by phone, text, video chat or any way you can while also practicing social distancing. Talking to friends and family doesn’t only help you.

“Just having other people to talk to so you don’t expect your partner to fill all of these roles that they didn’t normally have to fill because your life was more expansive than this,” Gottlieb said.

It’s also a good idea to set expectations. I mentioned to Gottlieb that I only see my kids in the evening when they want to know what we’re having for dinner. It’s frustrating, but I am the one that has always done the cooking. I just wasn’t cooking many meals a day every day for the foreseeable future.

“A lot of moms are dealing with this," Gottlieb concurred. "Where everyone is expecting them to not only be working, but create the life they normally have and taking care of everyone else in the house. But that needs to be a collaborative effort.”

All of this change can be difficult for families right now, especially when one of you has other things you’re dealing with such as anxiety or depression.

“This pandemic brings to light all of the preexisting personality characteristics and relationship dynamics that existed before and now they’re just heightened,” Gottlieb pointed out. While one partner might want to disinfect all the doorknobs, the other may think it’s an overreaction. Instead of arguing about the doorknob, it’s a good idea to talk about what each other is feeling about the situation.

If you feel anxious, stressed or overwhelmed it may be time to look for outside help, Gottlieb advised. Psychology Today has a tool on its website to look for a therapist by zip code.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. “I think there are a lot of people who feel like ‘’Well, I’m feeling really anxious about this, but a lot of people have it worse so who am I to reach out to somebody because my issues aren’t that big right now?’” she said.

Couples counseling or individual counseling can give you tools to better communicate what you’re feeling and also coping mechanisms to use when things get tough. It’s important to talk to someone before it gets too serious, Gottlieb said.

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