In Tri Delta’s new series, “3 For You,” we’re covering the best tips from experts as we navigate this situation during COVID-19. Tri Delta staff member and licensed therapist Liz Crawley offers her three best tips for focusing on your relationship and surviving COVID as a couple. Read her three tips below, or listen to the podcast.
Relationships can be difficult, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Everyday life is changing for all of us, and navigating this new circumstance with a partner can be challenging. Liz Crawley is Tri Delta’s curriculum and resource development manager and is a licensed therapist specializing in couples and family therapy. She shares her advice for surviving COVID as a couple.
Keep in mind, these tips won’t solve deep-rooted relationship issues and should not take the place of seeking professional help. Many states are changing their teletherapy policies to make therapy available virtually, so be sure to look into the resources your state is putting in place.
Tip #1 Recognize your thoughts and what you can control
The first step during this pandemic is recognizing what you can and can’t control. You can’t control how your partner responds, feels, what they need, or the boundaries they set. Instead, think about what you can control. Start by recognizing your own thoughts—it helps to write them down. Try logging your thoughts for a couple days or weeks and reflect on what you felt and did in that moment you had the thought. Can you see the how your thoughts influenced how you felt and how you behaved? Are you able to reframe your negative thoughts to be positive? As you see the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, it becomes easier in the moment to recognize and reframe the thoughts to change your feelings.
The other piece of recognizing is what we call “shiny objects,” or the behavior or words used to hide or mask real issues or feelings. Often, we take things out (stress, frustration, sadness, fear, etc.) on those we care about. Instead of sharing our thoughts and feelings, being vulnerable and having a direct conversation, we yell about things like spilled milk or complain about how the closet is organized. Most people responding in the moment are focused on the shiny objects in front of them (i.e., the milk or the closet) and don’t recognize the root of the issue or what the underlying feeling is.
Take some time to reflect on a disagreement you’ve had with your partner. Think about what was driving your words and actions. Think about what was driving your partner’s words and actions. Were you caught up in the shiny objects? Could there be an alternative reason for the actions that played out? Do you truly know the root of your partner’s actions or words? Ask your partner in the moment the next time if you aren’t sure, or if something seems off.
Tip #2 Communicate with Intentionality
This pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty, hardship, fear, anxiety, depression and frustration. Many of these issues are ambiguous, extra tough to deal with and can have lingering impacts on your life. Couples might not be prepared to discuss these things or communicate how to help one another through them. For some couples, it means talking about topics you might not normally discuss or be vulnerable about. For others, it might be listening and hearing each other’s points and perspectives in order to best move forward. Topics you may need to intentionally communicate about right now include risk taking, finances, grief, loss, trauma, anxiety, depression, loneliness, crisis, what you are experiencing or what you need. During this time, it is so important to listen and hear what your partner is saying to you, so your partner feels heard.
Tip #3 This is Temporary
While couples can’t control when the pandemic will change and end, they can change how they respond to the crisis and the ways they treat one another. An element of change is impermanence which is the quality or state of being impermanent…or “not permanent.” For some couples, impermanence is knocking on their door in the form of losing a job or the passing of a family member. They are living with relationships and careers that are not permanent, and that’s a scary thing. Remind yourself that the current state is not permanent. It’s easy to get bogged down in the negative thoughts and frustrations of the pandemic, resulting in feeling hopeless and convincing yourself it is not going to end. Remember that all tunnels have an entrance and an exit, meaning the tunnel is going to end, and things will change.
When we accept impermanence, we become more present and can better embrace new daily challenges. We recognize the present impact the pandemic is having on our relationship and understand that impact will end or change. That helps us think about how we can move forward and allows us to discuss our current state or issues with our partner so we can create shared meanings and steps to move forward together. Spend some time reflecting on impermanence: What does accepting impermanence look like for you? How can you embrace impermanence in yourself and in your partner? How do you accept the current state and make changes? How can you embrace both acceptance and change at the same time?