You’ve heard the phrase “agree to disagree,” but in the age of COVID-19, does that remain a possibility? According to Michele Weiner-Davis, a relationship therapist and writer for Psychology Today, stress associated with COVID-19 is being experienced by many couples . In fact, one survey showed that about 39% of respondents are extremely stressed about COVID-19 . One stressor that may impact a couple during this time is differences in partners’ attitudes towards the pandemic. One partner may feel that taking all of the precautions necessary is best, while the other may feel comfortable continuing with more normal routines, which poses a challenge for couples. As restrictions are being lifted, businesses are opening back up, and some activities are resuming, couples may find themselves having to navigate this all over again. Differing opinions and attitudes on this topic can contribute to feelings of misunderstanding, anger, and frustration. Being at odds may also create a sense of distance between a couple, and may lead to avoiding the topic altogether in order to limit conflict .
Dr. Leon Seltzer, a clinical psychologist, encourages couples to honor the dissimilarities in their relationship. He reminds couples that having incompatibilities does not make you incompatible as a couple, but what is important is how you handle them. At times when you feel yourself reacting to your partner’s opinion that is different than yours, remember that the value of your relationship does not rest on your beliefs about one topic, but instead thrives off of the ability to communicate your thoughts and feelings to each other, even when these are different. Dr. Seltzer also encourages couples to find where they do share common ground . For instance, one partner may not be concerned about wearing a mask when they go out in public, but both partners may experience similar fears about the economy and the future of their employment.
Despite the significant stressors experienced during this time, couples can use this as a time to strengthen their relationship. April Eldemire, a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggests ways for couples to improve the health of their relationship, which can be especially helpful in managing situations in which partners disagree. For example, being emotional vulnerable with your partner is a great way to soothe yourself and let your partner know how you are doing. Instead of channeling the frustration you feel about the disagreement into proving your partner wrong, simply acknowledge out loud that you are feeling frustrated. This will help partners tune in to each other more quickly and recognize when one or the other needs more support. Another suggestion is to boost your communication skills through trying new techniques, as these are essential when discussing difficult topics. For example, Dr. John Gottman’s idea of the “soft start-up” encourages couples to start difficult conversations from a place that is loving and open and focuses on “I” versus “you” statements .
While it seems like 2020 may continue to be a time of uncertainty and differences of opinions about how to respond to COVID-19 will inevitably continue to emerge, couples now more than ever need to lean on each other for support. Through acknowledging and accepting your differences, working to be more emotionally vulnerable, and integrating new communication tools, even the toughest conversations can be shared in a productive way.
- Weiner-Davis, M. (2020). Couples in Corona Virus: Social distancing gone wrong. Psychology Today.
- Patel, U. K. (2020, April 17). How are people responding to COVID-19: A survey. eMediHealth.
- Seltzer, L.F. (2010). Can you and your partner agree to disagree? Psychology Today.
- Eldemire, A. (2020). Love in quarantine. Psychology Today.
Contributor: Saffee Croker, UT Undergraduate Student