Relationships in the Pandemic- Part 2: Navigating the Challenges

Two weeks ago I discussed common pandemic relationship issues.  In this blog post I will be discussing how to navigate these issues.  My first suggestion is commonly suggested by relationship experts, even in non pandemic times…

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Communication resolves SO many issues.  When we bottle feelings up, the result is two-fold: we feel increasingly frustrated/upset, and our partner has no idea how we are feeling and therefore can’t take any steps to resolve the issue.  When we want to bring up an issue (eg.  unequal distribution of household chores), it is important to not bring up the issue when you are in the heat of the moment.  For example, one partner may feel very frustrated about doing yet another chore that day, and as a result snaps at their partner about how they “always have to do everything around here!”.  In their mind, they are letting their partner know they are feeling unhappy with the situation, yet continue to feel frustrated when nothing changes. However when you bring something up in the heat of the moment, your partner might assume you are simply having a bad day, or they might be distracted and not truly taking in what is being said.  It is important to wait until there are no distractions, and to calmly bring up the issue using I statements.  So instead of saying “You never help out!” you might start by saying “I have been feeling very overwhelmed with the housework recently”.  Make the focus about the behaviour, as opposed to your partner’s character. You may feel at times that your partner is selfish or lazy for not helping out more, however to say that can make someone feel defensive. The goal is to make finding a solution collaborative, as opposed to combative. Depending on the issue, it might be important to give your partner time to reflect.  In order for a solution, or compromise, to be found it might take more than one conversation.  It’s ok for the resolution to be an ongoing process, as long both people are committed to figuring out a way forward so that both partners can feel supported.

In Summary:

  • Don’t bottle feelings up
  • Choose a quiet moment with no distractions to bring the issue up
  • Focus on the behaviour, not the person
  • Use “I” statements
  • Allow your partner time to reflect, if needed
  • When trying to find a solution, work as a team

If, even when using the above techniques, bringing up issues always ends up in heated arguments that never seem to get resolved, it may be worth looking into couples counselling.  

Self Care and Alone Time

It’s important for both partners to take time for themselves. It may seem counter-intuitive, how can spending time apart help a relationship? However, as discussed in the last blog post (link) over familiarity can put a damper on desire.  Furthermore, spending time alone can deepen your appreciation for your partner’s company. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of doing everything together, especially during lockdown, however it is important for us to have some space and alone time, and to engage in activities that support our physical and emotional well-being. Try to reflect on what fills your cup; this may involve exercising, going for a walk, watching a show or engaging in a creative activity. Taking care of yourself means you are taking care of the relationship – you are one half of it, after all!

Take Time to Connect

It can be easy for us to get into a routine, get distracted by the many things we need to do, and not take time to really connect with our partner.  So while it is important for us to have that alone time, it is also important for us to have some intentional couple time.  To encourage intentional connection you can try the following: 

  • Find an activity you would both enjoy –  if you have kids, plan it for after they are in bed.  While it may not be the same as going out on the town you can try:  ordering take out, watching a movie, having a glass of wine or tea, guided meditation, listening to a podcast or audiobook, create an indoor spa at home, plan a virtual double date, have a board game night, go on a hike, or try an online dance class, 
  • Make at least part of that activity involve conversation – while it’s great to engage in a fun activity, simply watching a movie then calling it a night may not leave you feeling more connected to your partner
  • Make eye contact, and do your best to be an active listener – being intentional and attentive during the conversation can show your partner that you’re really listening , which can set the stage for more meaningful conversations.

Assess the Situation

This pandemic isn’t going to last forever.  There may be issues that are coming up now that may have never been an issue during the pandemic.  For example, if you are co-parenting and your kids are engaging in online learning, you may find that your differences in parenting styles have never been more apparent. One or both of you may be struggling with mental health issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the various lockdowns we’ve endured.  Or, as was mentioned earlier, you and your partner may feel really differently about the precautions you need to take when it comes to Covid-19.  While these are genuine issues, the fact is that they are coming up during a unique time with a very specific set of stressors.

On the other hand, the pandemic may have brought to light some genuine problems in your relationship.  Maybe you don’t feel as connected to your partner as you once did, and you have grown apart, or perhaps there is an extreme imbalance when it comes to household labour.  Prior to the pandemic these issues may have been easier to ignore through engaging in activities, work, and socializing outside of the house. The pandemic not only forces couples to spend more time together; its very existence can create stress and anxiety,  while also taking away many past outlets and supports.  It is important to consider what life will be like once the pandemic is over – will you and your partner have more job stability?  Will you have more help from family when it comes to childcare?  Will being able to engage in activities outside of the home put you and your partner in a more positive frame of mind? Ultimately only you can decide whether the pressure the pandemic has put your relationship under has simply been a temporary stressor in what has otherwise been a good relationship, or whether the pressure has brought to light cracks in the foundation that you are simply not able to live with.


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