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How to Help Your Marriage Survive the Stress of COVID-19

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistApril 6, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

China’s experience with COVID-19 revealed how deadly the virus can be, and now data out of China is showing us how disastrous the virus can be for marriages.

News outlets are reporting that record numbers of couples are filing for divorce in China. And, ominously, domestic violence is on the rise. With the United States and other countries now facing rising rates of COVID-19, we should use this information as a warning. Couples need help in managing the stresses of living together in a lockdown.

Some key ways you can manage the strain on your relationship are:

Arrange for personal time. While you might finally have the opportunity to spend quality time with your spouse, you might also have way more of it than you want. Keep in mind that it is not only okay to need alone time, it is important for the health of you as an individual and for your relationship. 

Accept your spouse as they are. Focus on what you value, appreciate, and respect about spouse. It can help to remember that they – like you – are stressed and may not be at their best. So, choose to let their upsetting behavior go. If issues continue after your lives resume some normalcy, you can always address grievances at that time.

Plan for expected problems. Sit down together to talk through what each of you are struggling with individually and as a couple. If you are aware of particular areas of difficulty or behaviors that may set off conflict, decide ahead of time how you want to handle them. For instance, if you tend to get snarky when stressed, acknowledge this upfront, vow to try to handle frustrations in a non-offensive way, and apologize when you backslide. Also, given that you may be facing multiple stressors as a couple, talk together about how you will prioritize and manage them.

Take space when tensions heat up. When tensions do get the better of you, choose to take time away from each other. Rather than just walking away, tell your partner that you need some time to calm down or consider the issue at hand. It often helps to provide a time when you will reconnect, even if you need request extending the break at that point.

Connect with others. Just as people generally do best when they have friends in addition to their spouse, connecting with others during lockdown can lessen the strain on your marriage. So, text or call friends. You may even use this time as an opportunity to reconnect with people you haven’t spoken with in a long time.

If you have children, maintain their routine. This is very important if you do not want your home filled with crying, whining, and tantrums. (Actually, this advice can also apply to teens and even adults.) Also be sure to attend to the basics of what your children need, such as eating well and getting enough sleep.

If you are afraid of your partner, reach out for help. Time magazine’s recent article, As Cities Around the World Go on Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look for a Way Out explains that women are particularly at risk for being victims of domestic violence during times of crisis, such as the current pandemic. If you are in such a situation, or fear your situation will escalate into an abusive one, reach out for help now. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They offer help in more than 200 languages. You can also reach out to them, and even chat with them online, at https://www.thehotline.org/help/. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Give the above suggestions serious consideration. By responding to your personal and relationship struggles in constructive ways, you will increase your chances of managing this crisis well together. Even better, you might find that you actually enjoy a lot of this imposed together time and nurture a greater sense of closeness.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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