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Protecting Your Relationship During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Couples across the country are struggling to meet the challenges and the new demands that have been placed on them as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Couples are having to make adjustments with regards to work, home life, finances, and children, amongst others. All of the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought has lead to increases in stress and strain on both partners and on the relationship.

We all experience stress in response to both daily hassles and large, life altering events. The current pandemic is causing stress for couples on both of these levels, from how to manage work-life balance now that everyone is at home together during the day to the loss of one partner’s job and a significant source of the household income. These stressors are referred to as “dyadic stress” because they take a toll on both partners and on the relationship [1]. Couples experiencing dyadic stress are at an increased risk for experiencing communication problems, declines in relationship satisfaction, and for some, the eventual ending of that relationship [2].

Despite the additional demands that couples are facing right now, it is important that couples continue to make their relationship a high priority and work together to manage the additional stressors they are experiencing. Professionals in the fields of Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy have offered guidelines and tips to help couples to navigate this challenging time.

Scott Stanley, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Denver, is reminding couples to utilize the “three keys” from the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). For any readers who have completed a couples workshop through Healthy Connections, these will sound familiar to you. The three keys are:

  1. Do Your Part: focus on what you can do as opposed to what you think your partner should be doing differently, could be doing better, etc.
  2. Decide, Don’t Slide: be intentional to make decisions during life transitions, as opposed to just “sliding” into one option or the other; some good questions to ask yourself and your partner during this pandemic:
    a. How does working remotely affect us as a couple?
    b. What does time spent together look like now?
    c. What decisions or changes do we need to make with regards to money, income, debt, etc.?
  3. Make It Safe To Connect: making sure that both you and your partner feel both physically and emotionally safe. [3]

Steven Harris, a licensed marriage and family therapist and professor at the University of Minnesota, has suggested ways for protecting your marriage during this difficult time:

  1. Understand that during this stressful time, both you and your partner will likely do “more of the same.” For example, the partner who feels comforted by taking control of situations will likely increase their efforts to control things during this time.
  2. Understand your unique patterns of interaction as a couple – these may be even more heightened during times of anxiety and stress.
  3. Be intentional with how you spend your time together during the quarantine, recognizing the importance for balance and even though you are likely home together all of the time, each partner may need some alone time to recharge.
  4. Be aware of each other’s social needs and try to accommodate these. For example, if your partner is an extrovert, recognize that their need for social connection might be greater than someone who is more introverted, and consider planning a virtual get-together with some of your friends.
  5. Make a plan together for how to manage the new demands of life. [4]

You can find these and other resources in the COVID-19 Resources section on the Healthy Connections resource page.

References:

  1. Randall, A. K. & Bodenmann, G. (2008). The role of stress on close relationships and marital satisfaction. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 105-115.
  2. Falconier, M. K., Nussbeck, F., Bodenmann, G., Schneider, H., & Bradbury, T. (2015). Stress from daily hassles in couples: Its effects on intradyadic stress, relationship satisfaction, and physical and psychological well-being. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41(2), 221-235.
  3. Stanley, S. M. (2020, March 24). Protecting your relationship in the shadow of coronavirus. Psychology Today.
  4. Harris, S. M. (2020, March 24). Protecting your marriage from becoming another coronavirus victim. Institute for Family Studies.