Navigating romantic relationships has been quite challenging in this season. The ongoing pandemic has created bridges apart from our loved ones–whether we live with them or not. The ongoing uncertainty based on the time we're living in has just brought on more anxiety, depression, and isolation.
There is so much data out there saying the pandemic has either torn people apart or brought them closer together. Our whole lives got flipped over a year ago, which has caused a lot of friction for people to face their insecurities and underlying issues in their relationships.
For many people, this is the first time they have paused to address specific areas in their lives and question their intentions in every category in their lives. And often, when people see the things they have to work on, they may choose to push the other person out because it's what feels safe to them versus opening up and trying to work on things as a team.
Here is a run-through of some of the major issues many romantic relationships are facing and some tips for improving your love lives during these challenging times.
The major issues couples are facing during the pandemic:couple yell GIF by Cam'ronGiphy
One of the unique factors that keep recycling itself during the pandemic is simultaneous stress. Most times in relationships, both individuals aren't dealing with stress coming at them from every angle, so it allows one person to be more supportive while the other person is trying to process the next chapter in their lives. However, COVID has made it challenging for both partners—whether they face job loss, which adds to financial stress, losing a loved one due to COVID or any other health condition, and having limited or no access to engage with other people and events to attend to take their minds off their issues for a moment.
I asked differentiation-focused therapist Dr. Paul-Roy Taylor, from online therapy platform Choosing Therapy, how he would advise dealing with simultaneous stress this season. His perspective was quite informative. "A little compassion goes a long way, which is easier when the stress is unrelated to the relationship. It's important to recognize no one signed up for this brand of coupling: together all the time, no external stimuli, no friends, working from home. It'd almost be unusual if stress levels weren't high right now.
"Start by separating those things that are actually within your control from those that aren't, then take a look and see which stressors you control as a couple, followed by talking about those particular concerns with your partner. This will help you diffuse the stress in the right directions while freeing you to focus on the stressors that are yours to bear and trying to disregard the ones that no amount of worry is going to fix."
The keyword is compassion because it's hard on everyone in this season. I know it's hard to be completely mindful regarding your approach to being present for your loved one, but the best you can do is try to be gentle and understanding as you'd like them to be for you. It's that little effort that will take both of you a long way.
Many people are also dealing with the lack of healthy boundaries during this season. Boundaries are essential because it allows individuals to deal with things first by themselves to function in their relationships. Due to the limited outside support systems like seeing family and friends to balance our emotional and mental headspaces, couples are now forced to rely only on each other for everything—which can add a lot of pressure and conflict to their union. Our amplified home lives leave very little room to separate work life, time for yourself, and couple time which interferes with maintaining a balanced routine.
Tips for maintaining a healthy relationship during the pandemic:high five tracee ellis ross GIF by HULUGiphy
Believe it or not, communication is the most essential aspect of any and every relationship. During this season, anxiety, stress, and depression are incredibly high and often lead couples to having more negative emotional reactions and arguments. And because tension is so high, it can lead to couples withdrawing from being more intentionally open about how they're doing and feeling on a daily basis.
I asked Dr. Taylor how he would advise individuals in relationships to communicate more mindfully or intentionally when they struggle with communication how they feel often. He mentioned a few insightful tips. "That's usually a problem with fear of conflict, the need for validation, a desire to keep the peace, trouble tolerating anxiety around difficult conversations, or some form of all four.
"I advise people to try out new communication skills with people they don't care about and work up. It's much easier to start working on communication skills when the stakes are low since you'll be building up your tolerance for when it really matters."
We all have topics we aren't as fond of speaking about in a relationship, but it's essential to actively deal with the issues versus suppressing them and having them blow up in the future because you're choosing to avoid it for temporary comfort. Life has been hectic as hell to get through, but we have to continue to seek new ways to support each other actively. Being mindful of our intentions is the root of our beginning to make things better, and it starts with being open to talking about how we can support one another. Instead of hanging on to every word your partner is saying, lead with being a good listener and stop taking things personally—constructive criticism is the backbone to our growth.
Set up a clear routine to help add some form of structure to help motivate each other. Pencil in work time, you time, us time, and try your best to maintain those boundaries to help each other thrive in this season. If you're in a long-distance relationship, make sure you and your partner are staying on track with your FaceTime dates, whether daily or every other day. There are still many ways you can grow together, read books, watch movies and shows, play online games, or work out together on FaceTime.
Tips for couples interested in exploring couples counseling:
The pandemic has added many news issues in relationships, and it has also amplified existing problems. Some individuals are having a rough time dealing with how to deal with personal issues while still being present in their relationship. "It's important to differentiate a pure couple's problem from a problem that's affecting the couple," said Dr. Taylor. "Is each person a participant in this problem, such as with sexual foreclosure or boredom? Or is it that one person is having an issue, such as anxiety, depression, stress management, etc., and it's affecting the relationship? For couples problems, I do not advise individual therapy. I would suggest that unless it is a purely mental health issue, individuals should endeavor to solve relationship problems in couples therapy and not individually with their own therapist.
"After all, what do you have to say about your relationship that a therapist deserves to hear, but your partner doesn't? That sounds like avoiding intimacy to me. And it certainly doesn't help to be in both couples therapy and individual therapy if you just keep the peace in couples and then go talking behind your partner's back about the real stuff to your individual therapist, which is most often what happens."
You can pick and choose when you want to be open with friends, but transparency in a relationship is necessary all the time. Even when we have good intentions, and they end up making our partner feel bad, we have to choose to work through it together. This is why couples therapy can take the lead with learning how to hear each other more effectively and learn how to support each other in rough times.
I asked Dr. Taylor what advice he had for couples that are having a tough time in this season that are open to seeking couples therapy but aren't sure it can repair their relationship or maybe are just afraid of being vulnerable with a stranger. As per usual, he had some gems to share.
"The goal of couples therapy isn't to repair the relationship. It's not about supergluing you both together regardless of circumstances. Largely the first step in couples therapy is getting the partners to make a decision about whether they even want to try to be together. It's very common that one person sitting in the room has already left in their head, and they're just going through the motions. The second step is to agree on what the problem is. Couples don't always walk in on the same page with that issue. So I would say if you're considering going into couples therapy, if at a minimum, you have a goal of gaining a better understanding of what you each want in a relationship and a partner, as well as what kind of partner you want to be.
"If you go in with that mindset, it has a high degree of success—if not now, then in preparing you for couplehood down the line. It also helps you succeed because it does not depend on what your partner does in terms of how they handle themselves in couples therapy and their willingness to engage in the process."
I know times are rough for all of us in some way or form, but I just want us to take our time with ourselves and our significant others. Tread lightly and lead with trying to understand first rather than pointing the finger at your partner. We can't win being opponents; we can only win as a team to celebrate our shared victory.
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