We are no strangers to change here at Growing Self. In fact, personal growth is our specialty, and with personal growth comes A LOT of change from time to time. However, these past couple of months have introduced a completely new level of change. This change has been rapid, unwarranted, and left many heartbroken, confused, and scared.
With the ever-changing climate of our economy, health, and lifestyles this “new normal” settling in has many of my couples clients facing new and uncharted stress and anxiety around work, household obligations, family responsibilities, and the health of their relationship.
As an online marriage counselor, couples therapist, husband, and father – I’ve witnessed this stress firsthand. In the midst of this uncertainty, however, we still are all responsible for making our relationships work the best they can, despite the stress and upheaval we are all enduring.
To help make your situation feel a bit more manageable, I wanted to share with you the same advice I share with my couples clients in sessions. Here are my top six strategies to a thriving relationship during chaos that will help your relationship stay strong, healthy, and thrive during this challenging time.
You Can Have A Thriving Relationship Through Challenging Change
Before I jump right into my six strategies to a thriving relationship during chaos, I want to first encourage you to take a couple of minutes to quiet your thoughts, to focus on your breathing, and to center yourself. I’m not saying that you need to go into full meditation mode, but take a couple of minutes to just slow down. Slow down your thoughts, center your feelings, and find gratitude in where you are at.
When we start to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and uneasy in our current situation we can start to scramble and lose sight of what is truly important. I want to encourage you in where you are at and I want you to know that there is support for you here.
If you are facing challenges in your relationship that feel too big, unfamiliar, or distressing – you’re not alone in this. Many couples right now are struggling to balance this “new normal” with their household, children, work, finances, and each other.
My hope for you is that these strategies can help implement new routines and support systems between you and your partner. Now, let’s get started!
Strategy No. 1 | For the Couple Working From Home with Children: Plan and Communicate
Like many couples out there with children, my wife and I are dealing with conflicting schedules and raising a 22-month old daughter who is suddenly home all the time! One way we and other couples can pull together through this is to plan our work schedules around each other, as someone must watch the baby at all times.
As partners, you are both there to help and protect one another. That doesn’t mean that you walk all over each other or take advantage of the “more-chill” or “more-giving” partner. But that you work together to be successful as a unit.
Successfully navigating through working from home with children requires proactive planning and communication. The two of you will need to plan around each other’s schedules and check on them daily together to avoid any misunderstandings and added stress.
It is imperative that couples work together to make this transition as smooth as possible or to salvage what feels like an overwhelming pattern already taking place. The challenge here is that you are both dealing with the same discomfort and stress around balancing work responsibilities, home, and family care.
Schedules can change very quickly – couples who successfully work together, accept the fluidity of the situation, and work on keeping grounded and as calm as possible will come out the other side stronger.
Until this crisis ends, your day-to-day balance between work and home life will constantly change – you and your partner will need to work together to help one another succeed, and this will require good communication and strategic planning if you want a thriving relationship.
If you are like many of my couples clients though, you and your partner may struggle to effectively communicate. If you are looking for tips on building healthy communication between you and your partner, check out this podcast: Couples Communication Strategies for Stressful Times and this article: How to Improve Communication – Fast for tips you can start implementing today.
Strategy No. 2 | For the Couple with One Partner Out-of-Work with Children at Home
If you or your partner are temporarily out-of-work or have been laid-off, it’s likely that partner will be with their child(ren) constantly, a role many of us are not used to.
The sole childcare provider will need a break and time to decompress when their working partner comes home or ends their workday. Likewise, the working partner will need time to rest and decompress too.
How do you both respect each other’s needs while also taking care of your own?
Circling back around to the importance of healthy and effective communication, couples in a thriving relationship will need to communicate their needs clearly. With a good understanding of what you need and what your partner needs, you can strategically plan your after work hours.
This lifestyle change will require adaptability and empathy. We are all expending more energy than we are used to spending, and we will all need breaks from time-to-time.
Keep in mind that your partner (whether taking care of the children or working their regular job) is just as tired, stressed, and in desperate need of self-care as you are. If you can look out for one another, you’ll both get your needs met.
Strategy No. 3 | For the Partners in Desperate Need of Self-Care and Individual Time Alone
Self-care is crucial to a thriving relationship, and that does not change now. Many self-care options, especially those including gyms and socializing, are not permitted right now.
For those in need of some gym time, be open to socially distanced walking, jogging, or hiking outside. You don’t need to purchase a full in-house gym system – unless you really want to.
Instead, you can either subscribe to free workout videos on YouTube or purchase a subscription to a fitness app or virtual wellness program.
For those in need of some social time (apart from your partner), engage in calls and video chats with friends and family. You can virtually go on walks together, attend virtual in-house happy hours, just catch up, or even make a meal together (in your own kitchens of course).
It’s important to maintain friendships even when you’re required to be apart.
For those feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and emotionally drained: meditate, eat better, get some rest, and do what you can to keep yourself grounded.
This may mean spending time alone, reading your favorite book, getting some sunshine by yourself, listening to music, or simply drinking more water.
For those in need of a distraction, this may be a perfect time to start a new hobby to keep your mind occupied and not overburdened with stress.
Taking care of yourself will allow you to show up for your partner and your family when they need you most.
Helpful Tip: Don’t assume your way of self-care is right for your partner!
Do you have a great workout regiment that you can do from home? Great! That being said, your self-care options are right for YOU, and not necessarily anyone else. Allow your partner to practice their own self-care, as they know better than anyone what makes them feel better.
Work on accepting your partner’s way of self-care and try to calm any thoughts of your partner’s self-care being wrong (as long as those methods are not harmful). Remember, if you let them take care of themselves, they can show up better for you when you need them most.
Strategy No. 4 | For the “Informed” Couple Needing to Focus On Each Other
It is crucial that we remain as informed as possible during these difficult times but it can be so easy to go down the proverbial wormhole of different news articles, especially on the internet, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and panic.
Stay informed, but limit your own exposure to articles that can dysregulate your emotions and stress. It may be best to stick to official sources like the World Health Organization and your own state’s official guidelines and act through them rather than reading numerous other articles that might inflame your fear and lead to disconnection from loved ones.
Instead of consuming hours of news, schedule a time during the day that you briefly “catch up” on what is new in your state or area of residence. Be strict and put your phone away, close your computer, and turn off the TV when your “news time” is up. Then mindfully use the rest of your day to fully show up for your partner, your family, your friends, and your job.
If you and your partner are both working from home, you may be spending quite a bit more time around one another. Remember, this does not mean that you are spending time “together” – you will still need to find time throughout your week to focus on each other.
We can get in the habit of forgetting to ask our partner “How are you doing today?” when we see them constantly. Our partner is working through difficult emotions and feelings just as we are – it’s good to recognize that for each other and if needed, schedule time together away from the hectic headlines.
I encourage you to use the uncomfortableness you may be experiencing in your relationship to highlight areas of growth for you and your partner. Instead of spending extra time in front of the TV or on your phones, engage in conversation. Use this time to rebuild “weak” areas or vulnerabilities that could ultimately breakdown your partnership.
If you find you are struggling to get the conversation started, check out this article: How to Fall Back in Love with Your Spouse for conversation starters when things start to feel a little stagnant.
Strategy No. 5 | For the Couple Looking to Regulate Emotions and Get Back on Track Together
Yes, these are historically difficult times – that cannot be denied. However, you can take steps to feel calmer emotionally about the situation so you can be a better partner and parent.
One of the best ways to get out of the funk of flooding emotions and disconnection from your partner is to practice gratitude. Actively practicing gratitude will look different for everyone, but finding the silver lining through this situation will strengthen your relationship and make you and your partnership more resilient to change.
Many couples with children I know are having amazing experiences with their kids right now that they were not having prior. They are now able to spend quality time with their families instead of being caught up in the hustle of shuttling from event to event, being busied by daily obligations that are currently on hold or greatly reduced, and having to stick to a strict schedule that inhibits learning together, game nights, picnics in the yard, or leaving living room forts up for days instead of just hours.
Similarly, many couples are finding that they are actually finding rest and relief in this season. Where they were previously overworked and stuck in a cycle that they didn’t even recognize as draining, they are now building better self-care and relationship-care habits that in return are making them better people, partners, and parents. Ultimately creating a thriving relationship that they didn't realize they were previously missing.
I even have some couples clients that are working as a team for the first time in their relationships – never having known previously the impact that this type of support can have on your relationship and household productivity.
And yet others are rethinking their priorities during this time of pause. Finding out what truly matters to them individually and as a couple. Dreaming, creating, and planning for a better future that they had not had time to envision previously.
So much of what is happening right now is frightening, and it is absolutely so, but we can keep ourselves calm in the moment by accessing the positives and good that are sometimes hard to notice amidst all the change and chaos.
Daily gratitude not only calms your emotions down in the moment, but it also helps buffer against the difficult times. By practicing daily gratitude, you and your relationship can begin to thrive during difficult times.
Strategy No. 6 | For the Overwhelmed Partners Looking for Answers
The stress and anxiety that you may feel right now are completely understandable. These changes and uncertainties can become too much for any of us at any moment and that’s normal and okay.
The truth is, no relationship is perfect. We all handle stress differently, individually and as couples. Sometimes it can be hard to navigate these changes or challenges on our own – especially if you and your partner react to stress in drastically different ways.
It’s not abnormal that one of you may be in fix-it mode while the other is looking for a place to retreat to…alone. It’s not uncommon that you may find that your communication skills aren’t as strong as you once thought they were. It’s not out of the ordinary that you may be questioning your foundation or wondering what’s next for your relationship.
These are all valid responses and normal, especially in stressful situations.
The good news is that many couples therapists and marriage counselors, including us at Growing Self, are increasingly offering flexible online options to adapt to COVID-19. This means you can find help from the comfort of your own home.
There is never any shame for reaching out for professional help if it is needed – if you’re feeling overwhelmed and it seems like there’s no way out, please reach out and call a professional.
This situation is extremely stressful, and the timeframe for an end to this crisis is unfortunately indefinite. That being said, we are still in relationships and marriages, and those still need to be nurtured. You have the power to manage this stress and to be the most understanding partner you can be during this difficult time.
Wishing you the best,
Seth Bender, M.A., MFTC