A Letter from Our Founder: Tips for Couples to Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic
Thoughts and exercises for navigating the COVID-19 pandemic from the founder of Couples Counseling Associates, Sara Schwarzbaum.
Dear clients, colleagues, friends, and supervisees,
As we face a massive disruptions in our lives, I wanted to reach out to my contacts and say some things that may be useful as we all navigate this crisis.
When our lives get disrupted, our routines change. This open-ended, forced-to-be-under-one-roof new reality can create havoc with our loved ones.
We may have romanticized or unrealistic ideas about what this period of being at home together should look like. And our notions may differ from what our partners think, which can create tension.
Additionally, we each have different ways of reacting and responding to stressful situations and uncertainty, ranging from denial and minimization to extreme anxiety and panic. The chances of you and your partner reacting in the same way to this pandemic are non-existent: Each of you brings to the relationship a different personality, different life experiences, and a different family history.
If you had previous struggles with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions, this time is likely to exacerbate your symptoms. How you cope with these symptoms today may or may not be the same as how you coped in the past.
If you and partner previously struggled with escalating conflicts or increasing distance, this pandemic may make matters ever more difficult for your relationship.
It will come as no surprise to you that as a mental health professional, I want to introduce the idea in this newsletter that in these circumstances, there are opportunities for growth, self-reflection and the possibility of choosing different behaviors than in the past.
The way you and your partner handle this crisis, will be a reflection of your own values as you confront your own mortality and that of your loved ones. You can consider the choices you have in how you behave based on the possibility of loss.
What kind of a person do you want to be as you navigate this existential threat?
Here are some ideas to help you in the next two weeks:
How to Start Navigating The Unknown
Think about how we are going to feel when this is over. This crisis is an opportunity to connect with lots of people you may have neglected for lack of time or intentional planning.
- What connections have you postponed because you were busy?
- Who can you call or write to?
- What loving things do you wish you could say to someone that you haven’t?
In addition, ask yourself the following questions. Are you:
- Living in accordance with your own values?
- Taking advantage of this opportunity to show that you care and to be grateful?
- Thinking about others or just about yourself?
- Practicing self-care or indulging in behaviors inconsistent with a self-caring attitude?
- Accepting your partner’s different style of coping or are you shaming them for not thinking like you?
- Trying to find humor in small things or does everything have to have a somber tint to it?
- Accepting that you and your partner may need space at different times or not?
- Speaking with kindness and respect?
- Tapping into your resilience or your victim position?
- Offering compassion to yourself and others?
In other words, when this is over what might you regret not having done?
Get Curious Again
If you’ve been together for a long time, you may think you know your partner well. Think again and get curious. Sit down on the couch without computer, TV or phone screens and ask each other some of the following questions. Take turns answering. This is not a “conversation”—ask your partner a question and keep going after you hear the answer without judgement or sharing your own opinions.
- What is one thing you are worried about in the coming day/week/month?
- What are you most looking forward to in the coming day/week/month?
- What is one thing you are most proud of that you did today/last week/month?
- What is one thing you are least proud of that you did today/last week/month?
- Is there someone who / something that has been irritating you lately?
- What is your idea of a relaxing weekend nowadays?
- What is your current favorite song/movie/TV show?
- What are two of your favorite childhood memories?
- What is your favorite memory of a good time in our relationship?
- Where do you like to go these days when you need a place to think?
A Quick Communication Exercise:
Finish the following sentences and share them with your partner:
When I get anxious, it would help me the most if…
When I feel like being by myself, and I think you want to be with me, it would help me if you…
When I feel like being with you and you don’t, It would be helpful for me if you…
Additional Tips & Thoughts
- Have frequent meetings with your partner to map out the day or the week, including when to take time together and when to take time apart, to minimize surprises.
- Move your body each day: dance in the living room, set up an exercise routine with a DVD or a streaming service.
- Limit alcohol or drugs.
- Write down three things you are grateful for every day.
- Share with your partner how much you appreciate them and why.