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How to Protect Your Relationship from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Widespread social distancing guidelines have us working from home, limiting, or avoiding personal and professional pastimes we once enjoyed. How has the pandemic impacted our relationships? This article discusses easy strategies to sustain connection and reduce conflict during COVID-19.

Our lives look extremely different compared to life pre-COVID-19. Our usual methods of socializing, networking, and relating to one another have gone sideways or have been thrown out altogether. It is not unusual for a myriad of distractions to keep us from acknowledging and addressing problems in our relationships. However, when we are confined to our homes, as we have been since early 2020, there is no escaping our relationship issues. It is no surprise that adding stressors and worries about potential illness, unemployment, social isolation, increased childcare responsibilities, loss of in-person sources of entertainment, and more can complicate even the happiest of relationships.

According to the New York Post, divorce inquiries in the United States doubled after only one week of quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports indicate predictions for a continued increase in divorce rates post-pandemic, when courts reopen. Studies done by Xin Qin and colleagues have seen huge upticks in divorce and domestic violence in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic.

All couples fight, argue, or struggle with some type of conflict. Evidence from research conducted by John Gottman and colleagues suggests that couples who end up having satisfying, enduring relationships and marriages communicate differently than those who divorce or end up living in dissatisfied relationships.

“It’s beneficial for couples and families to consider the possibility of healthy intent versus unhealthy communication approaches or styles,” says Anthony Daemke, Licensed Clinician at Diversus Health. “Communication is often misunderstood, leading to conflict and heightened family tension resulting in ongoing and consistent negativity, driving relational quality down. Always consider the intent of your partner, children, parents, and others, before assuming what and how they communicated to be ill-intended.”

The following tips offer effective communication advice about how to protect your relationship from the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. Evade Criticism

We are often quick to judge and criticize our partner when we are angry or irritated. Criticism causes us to defend ourselves against insults or try to fight back if we feel provoked. Instead, we should focus on speaking directly about a situation that is bothering us by using the formula, “When you did X, in situation Y, I felt Z.” This way, we are breaking down the problem in a way that is clear to our partner about what they did and how it impacted us. By presenting the issue in a formulated way, we are giving our partner a roadmap to help them understand how to make it better.

2. Resist Defensiveness

It is important for us to take responsibility for our contributions to conflict. Instead of getting trapped in a “whodunnit” game, we can work toward constructive solutions. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. The phrase “speak once, listen twice” can be a valuable asset in our relationship toolkit. Taking the time and consideration to listen to what our partner is saying and putting ourselves in their shoes can give us a better perspective into how they are feeling. Owning up to our errors and validating our partners thoughts and feelings can go a long way in remedying a situation. We all make mistakes – and that is okay.

3. Avoid Stonewalling

Make a conscious effort to actively engage in conflict with your partner in a constructive manner. Working through issues in our relationships is easier done without turning into a brick wall during a disagreement. Stonewalling tends to happen when our bodies are over-stressed, which causes us to shut down. It is good to practice self-soothing techniques and pause the interaction if we find ourselves becoming overwhelmed. Take deep breaths, visualize a comforting place, and relax tense muscle areas to help get yourself into a headspace where you can come back to the conversation to participate and problem-solve.

4. Communicate Respect & Gratitude

Leave no room for contempt. Disrespect is one of the biggest predictors of dissatisfaction in relationships and divorce. Contempt is often displayed as hostile sarcasm, eye-rolling, belittlement, and name-calling. We should strive to cultivate a habit of increasing the positives in our relationships by showing appreciation and gratitude. The more opportunities we take to show how much we cherish and admire our partner, the more they will feel rewarded and encouraged to keep up the good work. If we lift up our partner, we can help them feel empowered to work on anything.

The COVID-19 pandemic is hard on all of us. Implementing these communication techniques can help us build better, stronger rapport with our partners, which in turn can lead to us having healthier relationships with others in our socially distant circles. Have conversations that help you to connect to your relationships in this time of need.

*If you or someone you love is struggling with relationship communication, request an appointment with one of our Diversus Health providers today. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.

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