We all know relationships are hard, even in the best of times. Throw in the domino effect of a worldwide pandemic that affects our jobs, our routines and our everyday way of life, and that could spell disaster for even the strongest of unions.
“A successful relationship has a fair amount of autonomy,” said Colleen Kuhse-Portzline, a marriage and family therapist based in Manchester, Iowa. “We can go to the office, we can go out with friends, we can come home and talk about our day. The isolation of this pandemic has changed that.”
Time will tell whether the pandemic is a factor in an increased divorce rate.
Gail Gabbert, a marriage and family therapist in Galena, Ill., said research on that can be conflicting.
“There is a bit of disagreement as to whether these types of stresses will increase divorces,” she said. “Some research says that typically divorces go up after disasters. Other research says maybe not. It all depends on the strength of the relationship prior to a disaster as to whether couples will drift apart or stay together during rough times.”
Kuhse-Portzline agreed that pandemic stressors can affect even the best relationships.
“This pandemic has been a blur for all of us,” she said. “On top of that, this past year has been riddled with political stress. Suddenly, little things become big things. Our partner puts the plates away a certain way that bugs us or folds the towels a way we don’t like. Those things can become tipping points.”
But there are many things couples can do to keep from going over the edge in their relationship.
“Being open to what can come of this experience is huge,” Kuhse-Portzline said. “Get out of that stressful mindset, and see the positive.”
Some of those positives include more time together, stay-at-home date nights, the relief of not having to keep up with a social calendar and more time for sex.
“Sex is very good for relieving stress,” Kuhse-Portzline said. “Everybody is a little different in how they’re intimate with each other. It doesn’t have to be sex. There’s a hormone that’s released in the brain through physical touch, whether that’s sexual or not.”
Gabbert said knowing when and how to talk about issues is another important aspect to strengthening a relationship during hard times.
“The things that couples typically argue about — money, managing the kids, unemployment, even if one or both are grieving the loss of a loved one. All of those things make it easy to argue,” she said.
Finding a mutually agreed upon time to hash out issues or talk about problems can make or break a relationship.
“What you say, when you say it, how you say it, is critical,” Gabbert said. “You don’t want to talk about problems at the end of the day when you’re trying to destress.”
Kuhse-Portzline agreed that communication is key.
“Do things that allow for communication and destressing,” she said. “We are healed in a lot of ways through connections with other human beings. Holding hands is an amazing way to connect.”
The long-term effects of the pandemic and what will be our “new normal” hasn’t been revealed, but couples can lessen the impact of those changes by keeping their relationships strong.
“When we go through difficult times like this and come out of it, a lot of things we’re doing now are going to strengthen relationships,” Kuhse-Portzline said. “When people go through hard times, it often brings them closer together.”
Michelle London writes for the Telegraph Herald.