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Is the COVID-19 pandemic revealing problems in your relationship?

Posted on: July 28th, 2020 by Our Team

If you are feeling more anxious and stressed during these challenging times, you are not alone. Millions of couples around the world are feeling the strain from COVID-19. The pandemic provokes stressors that can impact our relationships. We are living more closely together. Our freedom has been curtailed. Many are isolated from usual support systems. Schools are closed. Children are home. Financial worries, health and safety concerns, elder care, and uncertainty about the future can all increase stress for couples.

Research about the impact of natural disasters on relationships has reported that disasters can highlight strengths and also expose weaknesses. These weaknesses can lead to marital discord, conflict and distance. A pandemic, similar to a natural disaster, can bring us closer or tear us apart.

An international study, Love in the Time of COVID examines whether and how COVID-related stressors affect relationships. The current study published online May 15, 2020, found that when people report more COVID related stressors, they also report poorer relationship quality and more conflict with their partner. However, when one partner perceives the other partner as more responsive to their needs this can mitigate the impact of these stressors. This is hopeful news and can actually help us strengthen our relationships.

Here are 6 common COVID-related stressors and what you need to know:

  1. Spending too much time together can strain a relationship. Spending time together is obviously a good thing. Spending too much time together, however, during a heightened emotional time can increase stress, irritability, frustration and impatience. If you don’t have healthy tools to deal with adverse times, you may find yourself distancing or turning away from your partner.
  2. Social isolation and distancing can lead to fear and uncertainty. Feelings of anxiety, worry, depression and emotional tension can lead to sleep disturbances and difficulty concentrating. Sleep deprivation can impact your relationship in a negative way.
  3. Concerns about physical and mental health and wellbeing are normal. What if I contract COVID or my spouse does? What if one of my elderly parents contracts COVID? How will we care for them? What if you are deprived of the ability to say goodbye? These questions can cause our anxiety and fear levels to rise, affecting our relationships. A heightened state of anxiety can affect the brain and the body, increasing cortisol levels. Heightened cortisol levels over time can compromise the immune system.
  4. Financial instability, economic hardship and unemployment or partial unemployment exacerbate psychological distress. Stock market swings, retirement accounts, and cash flow interruptions can increase our stress levels. This can lead to feelings of helplessness, distress, frustration and anger. If you and your spouse do not have healthy ways of communicating, these stressors can increase strain and arguments.
  5. Work-life balance and working from home can be challenging especially for families. Now for millions, there is the additional responsibility of caring for children and teens while working from home. Work interruptions can be distressing. Summer camps and programs are put on hold. Beach and parks still have limitations. These are real issues that couples are trying to navigate. Unfortunately for many, they are not able to manage their conflicts well because they don’t have the tools.
  6. Stress and anxiety are normal emotions during these times. Questions such as, what do I do if my gym is closed or I can’t go to my yoga class? How can I manage my stress and anxiety in healthy ways? If you are not having healthy conversations about the impact these stressors are having, you and your spouse can begin to emotionally disconnect, not feel understood or validated.

A study in the wake of the SARS epidemic found that even a year after the outbreak, survivors were still struggling with psychological distress, anxiety, and depression. This study highlights how important it is to work on your relationship. If you are noticing that problem areas are emerging and not getting better today is a good day to make a change.

What can we do

Being present, supportive and attentive to the feelings and needs of your partner, especially during the pandemic can make all the difference in your relationship. Relationship health begins with the understanding that both partners have a role and responsibility. You can survive and even thrive during these new challenges if you choose to. Communication is key. Engage with positive communication, interactions and constructive problem solving. Remember you are partners. Show you care. Validate your partner’s feelings, listen, and be loving.

People are more resilient than they know. You have a choice in how you want to respond to the current pandemic and or relationship challenges. We can’t control the pandemic; however, we can control our choices and responses. Now is a great time to make investments in your relationship.

When you are struggling in your relationship due to the stresses of the pandemic, contact Dr. Angela Bisignano. Dr. Bisignano is a licensed clinical psychologist who can help you develop new strategies, navigate difficulties and improve your relationship skills so that you can live your best life even in the shadow of a global crisis.

References

  • Balzarini, R., Muise, A., Zoppolat, G., Di Bartolomeo, A., Rodrigues, D. Alonso-Ferres, M.,
  • Urgence, B., Debrot, A., Pichayayothin, N. B., Dharma, C., Chi, P., Karremans, J., Schoebi, D., & Slatcher, R. (2020). Love in the time of covid: perceived partner responsiveness buffers people from lower relationship quality associated with covid-related stressors. PsyArXiv
  • Preprints. https://psyarxiv.com/e3fh4/
  • Srivastava, S., McGonigal, K. M., Richards, J. M., Butler, E. A., & Gross, J. J. (2006). Optimism in close relationships: How seeing things in a positive light makes them so. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(1), 143–153.
  • Ascigil, E., Selcuk, E., Gunaydin, G., & Ong, A. D. (2020). Integrating models of marital functioning to understand the mental health consequences of the Great Recession. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Online: https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407520918938
  • Muise, A., Harasymchuk, C., Day, L. C., Bacev-Giles, C., Gere, J., & Impett, E. A. (2019). Broadening your horizons: Self-expanding activities promote desire and satisfaction in established romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(2), 237–258.
  • Schacter, H. L., Pettit, C., Kim, Y., Sichko, S., Timmons, A. C., Chaspari, T., Han, S. C., & Margolin, G. (2020). A Matter of the heart: Daytime relationship functioning and overnight heart rate in young dating couples. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1093/abm/kaaa019
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