Don't Give Up On Your Relationship - The Quarantine Has Messed With Your Mind | Dr Kathy Nickerson

As we enter the third month of the pandemic, you are undoubtedly feeling exhausted and really tired of sheltering-at-home. You might even be thinking about giving up on your relationship... because after being together 24/7 during the quarantine, you're 95% sure you're incompatible.

If you are feeling this way, please hold on! You are not alone. I have had dozens of people call in with exactly the same concern over the last two weeks. I found something critical in every single conversation I had with these couples - almost all were misinterpreting what was going on and wanting to give up on their relationships too quickly.


Here's what you need to know:

1. We're all going through a trauma and no one is at their best right now.
This time is unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. It's very traumatic to lose life as we knew it. No more visits with friends, dinners out, time with extended family, chit chat with co-workers, exploring your favorite store, vacations, and so much more. Life is essentially on hold and it's hard to deal with. All of this loss, coupled with the fear associated with the virus, has induced anxiety and depression in many people. Very few of us are at their best right now.

2. Even the strongest relationships are strained right now.
A happy relationship starts with a happy you. Because of the quarantine, you can't do many of the things you like to do to take care of yourself. Not only this, your workload may actually have increased because of the pandemic. You have your previous workload and if you have kiddos at home, now you also have to homeschool, supervise all day, and prepare meals for the family. Odds are you're getting few, if any, breaks. This combination of more work and less time to do self-care is really hard on relationships. Being unable to have time or space to yourself strains even the strongest marriages.

3. Prolonged stress leads to poor communication.
You are stressed out right now. Your partner is really stressed too. Stress leads to really hurtful behavior, critical comments, more anger, and more hostility. None of this is good for communication. And we know that to have a happy relationship that feels good, we need to have 5 positive moments for every 1 negative one. All this stress is really messing with our positive to negative ratio and it's making many people feel their relationships are really lousy.

4. When we get into a negative place, we start thinking of everything as negative.
When our relationship feels more negative than positive, we start to feel very negatively about our partner, our relationship, and we start to interpret even neutral moments (i.e., can you pass the salt?) as negative or critical. This perpetuates the negativity and often makes it worse. A bad place to be!

So if you are struggling, here's what you should do to turn things around...

1. Reassure yourself.
This is a very hard time and it will come to an end. Your relationship does not have to be a casualty. All relationships have their ups and downs. You can get through this time if you work together.

2. Be understanding.
Your partner is not at their best right now. You might not be at your best either. Let's assume everyone is struggling and is just doing the best they can. Try to be as compassionate, understanding and patient as you can.

3. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Instead of assuming the worst, please give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume they have good intentions and try to put a positive spin on what you're hearing.

4. Take breaks to take care of yourself.
In order to cope with the stress you're under, please carve out some time for yourself. You need some time alone to decompress. Go for a walk, take a nap, sit on your patio and just let your mind wander.

5. Work really hard to have good, calm, kind communication.
Be very mindful about how you're talking to yourself, your partner, and your kiddos. If you're upset, slow down and think carefully about how you want to express yourself.
6. Focus on what's good.
What we pay attention to grows, so pay attention to the good. Focus on what's right, what's good, what's positive. Give praise and compliments whenever you can.

7. Ask for the help you need.
There are a lot of pressures during this time, you cannot do it all. Please ask for the help you need from your spouse. Be specific and allow your partner to help you in their way, not necessarily your way.

8. Relax your expectations.
Right now, the goal is survival, not perfection. Please relax your standards and your expectations. You don't have to do everything perfectly or as you normally would. It's ok, just do your best. It's ok if some days your best is just so-so.

I hope that this will help you and your partner get to the other side of this difficult time. I know that you can make it through and I am here to help you every step of the way. If there's anything you need, please reach out.