How Parents Can Keep Their Relationship Healthy in the Age of COVID-19
No matter where you live, 2020 has been a year of high stress. COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s lives, whether you’re under quarantine or have developed the illness, you’ve been laid off or are an essential worker putting yourself at risk. Many are spending unprecedented amounts of time at home with their families and partners—and all that stress and close-quarter togetherness may cause some strain in your relationship.
“The quarantine has affected couples’ relationships by making them dig deeper into the reasons they came together initially,” says DeAnna Crosby, AMFT, an associate marriage and family therapist and clinical director at New Method Wellness. “Couples are having to slow down and be more focused on their relationship.”
A recent survey conducted by Lasting, the nation’s leading relationship counseling app, polled couples’ feelings on a number of relationship issues before and after the onset of the pandemic, such as how well they listen to each other and deal with issues together. Post COVID-19, there was a 27 percent increase in couples who make deepening their emotional connection a priority and a whopping 64 percent jump in couples who are very satisfied with the amount of quality time they get with their partner—and yet, on many fronts, couples are expressing growing dissatisfaction with their relationship in the wake of the coronavirus. The Lasting survey revealed a 29 percent dip in couples who are very satisfied with how they deal with conflict and a 22 percent decrease in those who are happy with how they communicate with one another.
Luckily, there are strategies you can use to minimize the battles and quarantine-proof your relationship, so you emerge from these trying times even stronger than before.
Scroll through Instagram these days and you’re bound to come across a slew of posts about people making their own sourdough bread or planning a five-course date night—but go easy on yourself (and your partner) if the most you can muster is a cuddle on the couch. “Breathe, and make sure that you cut yourself some slack,” Crosby says. “Now is not the time to expect perfection from ourselves. The very best of us are just surviving. Take it one day at a time and keep reminding yourself what Eleanor Roosevelt said: ‘This too shall pass.’”
Parenthood can put a strain on a marriage even in the best of times—and we can all agree these recent months have been particularly challenging. “Couples with children are having an especially difficult time because they’re having to manage their own emotional wellness as well as their children’s,” Crosby says. “Managing the wellness of children can be difficult in the best of circumstances, but with everyone on lockdown, your children are also being affected by it.”
When a disagreement arises, state your case without laying blame at your partner’s feet. “Using phrases like ‘you always’ or ‘you never’ to your partner raises their guard and defenses because it focuses on what’s wrong with the person,” says Fran Walfish, PhD, a Beverly Hills-based family and relationship psychotherapist. “Instead, use ‘I’ statements that focus on how you feel without blaming or accusing your beloved partner.” Try rephrasing it as something like, “I feel pretty frustrated when I spend the entire morning minding the baby by myself and can’t get any work done until after dinner.”
We’re all going through unprecedented times, with our normal way of life changing all around us. It requires us to be adaptable—and that goes for addressing new or heightened conflict in our relationships. “Stay open-minded and flexible,” Walfish says. “Remember that rigidity is not healthy, and that there is always more than one way to view and deal with a situation.’
You may not be able to call a babysitter and head out to a restaurant for a romantic dinner right now, but look for ways to make time for just the two of you after the kids are asleep. “It is so important for parents to continue to make couple time, which can be especially challenging when the children appear to be everywhere, all the time,” Crosby says. “After the kiddos go to bed, make a point to spend some alone time with each other. Resist the temptation to work or check-out on Netflix when you could be spending some special bonding time.”
The chance to spend more time with your family may sound like perfection—but odds are, weeks into the lockdown, you’re probably craving a little alone time too. “Respect each other’s need for some alone time,” Crosby says. “If your partner wants to take a long bath or read a book, try not to take it personally. Everyone needs time together and everyone needs time alone.”
You might be going through a rough patch, but look for ways to work together and keep moving forward. “When problems arise, it can be tempting to separate and/or place blame on each other,” Crosby says. “If you feel yourself blaming your partner for your fears and worries, take a step back or a time out and remind yourself that this person is your partner and wants the best for the family.”
They say laughter is the best medicine—and they’re right. A little (wry) humor can help get you through that moment when you’re dealing with it all—a crying baby, an unexpected bill or shortages at the supermarket. “Laughing can diffuse the intensity of an argument, help you keep perspective and help lighten up the moment,” Walfish says. And that’s exactly what we need right about now.
Need a little guidance getting your relationship back on track? Lasting is designed to be like marriage counseling on your own terms. The app recommends areas that could use some work in your relationship, and the daily quizzes and exercises will help you proactively strengthen your relationship.
About the experts:
DeAnna Crosby, AMFT, LAADC, is an associate marriage and family therapist and clinical director at New Method Wellness in San Juan Capistrano, California. She earned her Master of Counseling Psychology degree from Pacifica Graduate Institute, where she is also currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Depth Psychology.
Fran Walfish, PhD, is a Beverly Hills-based family and relationship psychotherapist, as well as the author of The Self-Aware Parent. She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from Ryokan College and is a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the Association of Child Development Specialists and the American Psychological Association.
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