Has the pandemic strained your relationship? Try these strategies.

May 25, 2021 in Healthy Living  •  By Miles Varn, MD

Perhaps before the pandemic you felt like you didn’t get to spend enough time with your spouse or partner. The time demands of work and social obligations may have meant less time time alone with your loved one. But for many people, that changed dramatically with work from home and limits imposed on social interaction outside your immediate family.

Close quarters, worries about health and finances, and the lack of time with friends and others outside your immediate circle has increased stress, arguments, and distress in many people’s relationships. For some, the enforced togetherness of the pandemic has intensified existing relationship problems. For others, these relationship strains are new and likely the result of the extraordinary circumstances people have faced over the past year and half.

As the number of people who’ve been vaccinated grows and the guidelines for social distancing begin to be relaxed, you may be tempted to hope that fewer social restrictions will allow your relationship to reset to the way it was before the pandemic. That may be true for some people, but you can also look at this as a chance to tune up your relationship and deal with issues before they cause a problem.

Steps to help you strengthen your relationship

If the stresses that surfaced over the past year caused significant friction or frequent arguments, you may want to talk with a family counselor. Having a neutral third party help you uncover underlying issues and concerns and build a strategy to deal with them can be a good place to start.

If you’re not ready to take this step or if the stresses didn’t have a big overall impact on your relationship, you can try these ideas to improve communication and make your relationship stronger and more satisfying for both of you.

  • Set boundaries and spend some time apart. You don’t have to eat every meal together, spend every evening together, and work out together. Agree to a plan of when you’ll spend time together and when you’ll take time for yourself. Shared expectations help prevent one partner feeling excluded or required to take part in “forced family fun.”
  • Most arguments are the result of partners keeping what they’re unhappy about to themselves. Instead, talk about your concerns in a non-judgmental way. It might be helpful to set up guidelines, for example, each person can express their thoughts for five minutes without being interrupted, then the other person has the same amount of time to respond or ask questions. To help prevent a discussion from becoming an argument, agree ahead of time that if that happens, you’ll table the discussion and come back to it the next day. It can also be helpful to set up a time to simply share how your day went so your partner has a better understanding of what stresses you’re facing and how you’re feeling overall.
  • Take care of yourselves. If you feel good and make positive habits part of each day, you’ll be better able to manage stress. That resilience can benefit your relationship as well as your own wellbeing. Choose healthy foods, get some physical activity every day, follow a healthy sleep plan, and do things that help decrease stress like meditation, breathing exercises, listening to music, or doing a favorite hobby.
  • Try something new together. Another thing that can help strengthen your relationship is trying a new hobby or activity together. It will give you something new to talk about and, according to some research, may raise your level of satisfaction with your relationship.
  • Be present. We’ve all spent more time than usual on our phones and computers during the pandemic and the tech overload can have a negative impact on our relationships. Set aside time every day to unplug and put all your devices away so you can be completely present for your partner.