When you got married, you may have thought the biggest form of contention in your relationship might be finances or child rearing—but then COVID-19 weaseled its way into your marriage and your way of life.
After months of isolation, a dramatic change in routine, employment and caregiving—let’s face it, basically everything—it wouldn’t be surprising if you’ve been counting down the days until you can socially distance yourself from your spouse and children.
You really do love your family, but too much of anything is a bad thing.
With stay-at-home orders lifting across most of the country, some couples may be trying to make a break from the house and one another. While you’ve been vigilant about following CDC guidelines and recommendations from medical experts, your spouse doesn’t seem to be taking them seriously. In fact, they might think you are a bit crazy and overzealous, while you feel like they are playing it fast and loose with your health.
Unfortunately, now COVID-19 has created other problems, specifically, squabbles between you and your spouse regarding virus risk management.
“The pandemic has definitely presented unique challenges, both physically and emotionally, for couples—even those who typically see eye-to-eye on things,” said Jerimya Fox, MD, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “It’s hard to believe in just a few months’ time, we’ve had to rethink our way of living, working and caring for our families. Such monumental changes are bound to cause some anxiety and friction in any relationship.”
While COVID-19 has brought us literally closer with our household, you’ve also become more divided. So, what can the two of you do so the virus doesn’t fester and ruin your relationship?
Dr. Fox shared these communication strategies that can help you navigate this uncertain time and ensure your relationship can weather any storm … or global pandemic.
Understand the Intention Behind Their Actions
They say, “we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.”
Although it might seem, in all appearances, like your spouse could care less about your family’s health and well-being, give your spouse the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their intentions.
When we are stressed, our listening skills tend to short-circuit, and it can be difficult to see past our own thoughts and views. Instead try to better understand your loved one’s point of view. Seek understanding behind their actions and don’t place judgement.
“Be curious, not furious,” Dr. Fox said. “Instead of coming at your spouse with fury and fire, ask questions, listen and be curious about “the why” behind their actions and feelings.”
Seek Common Ground
Ultimately, you both want the same thing: to keep your family safe. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. You just disagree on what that looks like.
“Too often we focus on our differing views or disagreements and let those drive us apart. But it’s OK and even healthy to have different views and philosophies,” Dr. Fox said. “Find areas of overlap, or common ground, and then seek ways to support one another.”
If socializing with friends is like food for your extroverted spouse’s soul, what would you both be OK with? Can you support his socially distanced, outdoor hangouts? Can your spouse support you by not letting friends and loved ones over to the house? Where can you safely find some compromise?
“Seeking common ground is not just good for your relationship, it’s good for the family,” Dr. Fox said. “You don’t want to send mix messages to your children on what is needed in order to stay healthy. Involve your family in finding ways you can all work together to mitigate risks.”
Praise Don’t Nag
Encourage and don’t antagonize certain actions or behaviors. Reward and praise your loved ones for their compliance with certain activities, such as handwashing, or simply let them know what you appreciate about them.
“It is often the incessant nagging that frustrates couples and children when performing tasks,” Dr. Fox said. “You can say something like, ‘I noticed you’ve been more diligent about hygiene around the house, and I want you to know that I really appreciate that.’ Believe it or not, praise can go a long way.”
Create a Game Plan
Unfortunately, if your spouse ignores social distancing, masking in public and handwashing, it could put your family at greater risk for catching the virus. You need to ask one another, what you will do if someone does get sick.
How will you reduce the risk of other family members from getting sick? Will they quarantine in a room or section of the house? Will the family stay somewhere else?
Hopefully no one in your family gets COVID-19 but having a game plan is important so you are on the same page.
Acknowledge COVID-19 is (VERY) Hard
We are all facing an insurmountable amount of stress and anxiety—even those individuals not following guidelines and seemingly in denial. It’s OK to be vulnerable and honest with your spouse that this is hard.
“We’ve never faced a challenge like this before, and we need to recognize that,” Dr. Fox said. “Coming to one another with empathy, compassion and honesty—whether you agree or not—can bring you closer together as a couple.”
Talk to a Professional
Know that no marriage is perfect. Each one comes with its rough patches and highs and lows. If you are still struggling, consider speaking with a behavioral health specialist—either individually or as a couple—to get guidance and support.
Therapy is helpful at any age to help process emotions and challenges. And don’t let social distancing stop you from making the appointment. Many mental health professionals can provide care via telehealth. Check with your insurance plan regarding coverage.
To find a behavioral health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.
Although COVID-19 has created havoc in our lives, relationships and marriages, one thing is for certain: If we can get through this—we can truly get through anything together.