During these challenging times, you’re not alone if your relationship is suffering. With many lives uprooted, individuals and couples are forced to navigate unchartered territory and find a “new normal” in their daily lives.
While uncertainty triggers some of our deepest human fears – loss of independence, loss of health, loss of security, loss of connection and loss of family, anxiety and even panic can be the new normal.
In a panic state our primal instincts take over, shutting off parts of our “rational brain” (pre-frontal cortex). Our less evolved “emotional brain” kicks into “fight, flight or freeze” to ward off danger (perceived or real) with the main goal to protect ourselves and keep our loved ones safe.
If you find yourself in this place, recognize there are steps you can take to manage your anxiety, channel your fears and improve communication.
Here are ways to strengthen your relationship during COVID-19:
1. Recognize fear
If you are fearful, recognize it. The minute you label it, you disarm it. But fear can be masked by other emotions like anger and anxiety. You may not catch it at first, but if you pay close attention and are mindful, you will.
2. Talk about “it”
Ask your partner questions: “Are you afraid?” “What are you scared about?” “What are you afraid will happen?” “What is the worst thing that can happen?” Sharing fears will reduce feelings of overwhelm. Take this time as an opportunity to improve your communication.
3. Establish a routine
Simple daily routines can help you through times of increased stress. A routine can be a set time you wake up each day, scheduling daily exercise (gentle exercise like walking or yoga), eating healthy meals, getting proper sleep and scheduling breaks from work or school.
This is a self-care practice that you (and your partner) can practice daily. Focusing on what you have control over and grounding yourself is key when so much of what’s around you is changing.
4. Respect differences
You may overreact and your partner under react. You may want space and your partner seeks togetherness. You may want to talk and your partner seeks quietude. This is normal. All of this is normal.
If you don’t understand your partner’s needs or behavior, ask questions. “What makes that important for you?” “Can you help me understand?”
5. Practice compassion
There’s no “right” way to do this. Notice when you’re judging yourself and your partner. It’s okay that you don’t know what to do and that you’re falling apart some days. You’ll have good days and bad, and your partner will too. The kinder that you are to yourself, the kinder you’ll be to others.
6. Focus on strengths
Work together to determine what tasks take priority. Divide tasks based on each partner’s strengths and comfort level. For example, one person may be more comfortable going out in public to get groceries than the other. Be mindful when you’re negating the importance of your partner’s tasks and appreciate his/her efforts instead.
During times of rapid change, we resort to old ways of thinking and behaving and rely on “survival mode” to get us through.
We are less mindful of how we’re thinking and feeling and no longer “witness” our own behavior, even when it’s causing us more stress.
But in the midst of uncertainty, you can rely on what’s helped you in the past and the capacity to get through difficult times – your “bounce back.”
And if you take it a day at a time, stay connected and support each other, trust that you’ll get through this together