Managing relationship stress from togetherness
During the last six months, many adults have spent an unusual amount of time with their partners. My wife and I are both working from home, when I used to go to my office in Everett. We bump into each other all day—sometimes it’s more than a bump and instead like a head-on collision.
I notice that after a while, I can get grumpy. And then, where can we go on the weekends? While stores, restaurants, parks, and beaches are slowly opening up, there is always the ever-present threat of the coronavirus. We’re fortunate that summer is here, with long, wide open sunny days offering hikes and the great Northwest outdoors. It provides some relief from all this togetherness.
Couples that had struggles and unresolved problems before our collective quarantine may feel like they’re falling off of a cliff. The increased stress of the coronavirus, economic Armageddon, social unrest, and oodles of uncertainty can be like throwing gasoline on a smoldering fire. Some couples may reach a tipping point. Indeed, this spring there have been dramatic increases in calls to domestic violence hotlines.
So how can we manage this increased togetherness during an unprecedented time of great stress?
Communicate more. Don’t keep your feelings in — find a way to share them with your partner. Take some time on a regular basis to check in with each other. How are you doing? What are you worried about? Don’t let your emotions go underground.
Listen more. Listening well is an art, and a science. Try to understand what your partner is thinking and feeling. Ask questions. Make sure you understand. Don’t offer unsolicited advice! If your partner wants your opinion or suggestions, she will ask. If each of us works hard to understand each other, we will be able to work together more effectively.
Help and ask for help more. This is a time to pitch in and help your partner. And if you feel like you need more help, ask for it. Cooperation is the order of the day.
Take more time for yourself. I try to take a walk every day in my neighborhood. Sometimes, Diane and I make a point to go together. But other times, I go by myself. I have a very social job, and as an introvert, I’m nourished by time alone. I like to sit alone on a bench at our local park and simply watch the leaves ripple in the wind. It brings me peace.
Don’t take offense. If your partner loses her cool, says something snarky, or is a regulation grump, cut him some slack. It’s not required to take offense, even though you may feel a big dollop of righteous indignation. If you do take offense, be quick to forgive.
Turn off your screen and work email. When the day is done, turn off your work email and cell phone. Spend some time without distraction. Make sure to turn off screens well before going to bed. The light emitted by screens can interfere with sleep.
Put some issues on the back burner. It’s a hard time to address big issues, although they may have become bigger. This is a time for us to focus on getting through this pandemic as gracefully as we can. We may choose to put off addressing some of our long-time concerns.
Get help. Ask your health care provider for a referral to a therapist who specializes in marriage counseling. A few sessions with an objective specialist can make a big difference.