In this week’s edition we would like to explore how self-isolation and COVID-19 is impacting couples (both with and without children).
We want to explore some common challenges faced by couples locked up in a house together day in and day out, and provide some tips and tools on how to manage this major change to our relationship dynamic.
COVID-19 and all its challenges will likely affect couples in two major ways:
• The individual struggles of each partner and the impact that has on their behaviour;
• The change to the couple’s pre-established lifestyle and routine and how they adapt.
Firstly, many of us will find ourselves feeling anxious, stressed and on edge with everything that is happening in the world right now. Stresses about our safety and job security can affect our mood, our thoughts and our behaviour. Almost always, the person we are most likely to take our stress out on will be our partners.
It is therefore crucial to consider what impact our own behaviour is having on our relationship.
Secondly, consider your ‘couple style’ before lockdown. When we are free to come and go as we please each couple builds a lifestyle and routine that balances their individual needs and couples needs affectively. We find that most families and most couples don’t spend every waking moment together. One or both might be at work for a significant portion of the day, we might have other commitments, visits with friends and family, gym classes etc.
Now consider, how many hours are you suddenly spending together in lockdown? With many working from home, no more family and friend visits, no more gym classes, no more school, suddenly we are “in each-others' faces” a lot more. This will undoubtedly change the entire lifestyle which each couple and family have deliberately constructed over their time together.
Consider how adjusting to this change is impacting our interactions with our partners on a daily basis.
Below are some tools that couples face these challenges.
With a significant decrease in personal space and an increase in time spent with your partner, it doesn’t take long to feel irritable, frustrated and maybe a bit smothered.
As such it is vital that couples remember to prioritize creating space and having some time apart from each other to refresh and reset.
By encouraging each other to take a walk individually, to watch a movie in the other room by yourself, to have a lie down or speak to some friends, you are giving each other a chance to have a break from each other. This provides a chance for each of you to reflect and work on your own inner needs, which helps make us happier individuals and therefore better partners.
Establish a Routine
Having a routine in this time is crucial. One or both partners are suddenly working at home; there may be kids around, and an endless amount of household chores to do. With so much going on, our days can quickly become muddled and chaotic. There may be no distinction between personal time and work time causing conflict and confusion between couples.
As such it is important for each couple to sit down and work out a routine which balances all the things which are important to them. These may be paid work, household chores, exercise, alone time, family time, couple time. Having this routine will minimize conflict arising from confusion and inequity, and ensure each person that they are having their needs met.
Socialize with friends, colleagues and family online
Individually- no one partner can be everything to the other person. In normal circumstances we often rely on friends and family to fulfil certain parts of us that we cannot get from our partner. This need will not change during lockdown. By maintaining contact with friends and family, you make sure you get to communicate and share parts of yourself, or interests that you can’t always share with your partner.
Ultimately you will feel happier and more balanced for this. It also takes the pressure off your partner to be everything to you and reduces your frustration.
As a couple- the way we interact with friends and family is part of our dynamic as a couple. When we socialize with other’s we often learn new things about our partners and see another side to them. Socializing with others, unknowingly is often an important element of a couple’s relationship so organize online skype, zoom, or facetime catch ups as a couple with others is something that helps maintain a relationship’s dynamic and also helps ensure you both feel connected.
Communicate and Plan
Communication is always important, but even more so in times of crisis. By being open and communicating your feelings and needs with your partner you not only allow them to be more understanding, but you also allow them to help you work through your issues.
Remember that each partner will have a different concern, a different perspective and also a different solution. By working together, sharing concerns, you can start to put a more solid plan in place for your family and this will be important in helping to relieve anxiety and stress.
For some individuals it is hard to communicate so as a partner we must make sure we ‘check-in’ daily. Make asking your partner how they are going and if they need help a daily habit.
When couples communicate and work together, both individuals will feel supported and understood instead of confused, frustrated and shut-out.
Quality Couple Time
While we have spoken a lot about maybe feeling smothered by each other and the need for alone time, we also need to discuss the need for quality couple time. There is a significant distinction between circumstantial time together and quality time together. When we are at home working, doing chores managing children and feeling stressed, despite being physically close to each other, conversations tend to centre on the immediate, the practical and the serious (particularly in times of crisis).
To continue to feel connected couples require more than this ‘working relationship’ which is focused on survival. Prior to lockdown this may have meant organizing a baby sitter and heading out on a date. Activities such as going out for a dinner, going to a gig, heading to the cinemas, going hiking together, helps us talk and create memories with each other and remind us that we are a couple, not just two individuals living together. There is no need to change this because of lockdown (in fact it’s more important than ever); we just have to get more creative. Instead of going out for a date night, set the table, get dressed up and have a glass of wine together. Play a board game together, or watch a movie together. Sit down and make time to talk about things not related to COVID–19 or the kids. Maybe share something interesting you read online, a new book you heard about. Whatever activity you choose, setting time aside for ‘quality time’ is crucial to ensuring that a couple remains connected throughout this time of crisis.
Remember, as we have been saying throughout, everyone reacts in different ways during times of crisis.
While we may at time feel very frustrated at our partner, try to remember they too are struggling to adjust. Make sure we try to be patient with each other as much as we can and remember to do what we can to support each other through this.
This time will pass and life will get back to normal, but how we act towards each other during this time will be significant in how we feel about each other on the other side.
At RelateWell, it has always been our priority to provide mental health support to those in need within the community. As the impact of COVID-19 is being felt across the country, more Australians than ever need support.
With concerns about our health, uncertainty around our jobs, major changes to our lifestyle and constant bombardment by the media, many Australians have been experiencing heightened levels of anxiety and stress. Therefore, in this week’s publication we will be focusing on anxiety management during this time.
On average 1 in 3 Australians experience anxiety in their lifetime. This makes anxiety the most common mental illness in our country. Certain factors, including stress, increase our risk of developing anxiety, and we can all agree that these times are proving to be highly stressful for many Australians.
Below is list of some common symptoms of anxiety:
If you are experiencing any of these, it is likely you are being impacted by anxiety, and with everything going on around us, it is not hard to see why. Even when we try not to think about it, the major changes to our daily lives make it hard to forget. As such, it is imperative that we learn to reflect on and manage our anxiety during this time. Below are some strategies which may help.
Be in Control
One of the most stressful things about this global crisis is that fact that it seems things are so out of our control, and that we don’t have impact over what may happen to us and our loved ones.
As such it is important that we do what we can to control our behaviour, our thoughts and our immediate environment. Consider that even in the most chaotic times, we always have control over how we respond.
We can wash our hands, stay home where possible, follow the rules and regulations put in place by the authorities and limit the amount of contact with others we choose to have. This can significantly minimise our risk of exposure.
We can also make sure we take all steps to be pro-active about managing our mental health, taking care to not let our thoughts spiral and overwhelm us.
Taking all necessary precautions when we can, gives us as much control over our own outcome as possible. Knowing that you have taken all the steps you can, shows that you are not completely helpless.
Limitations on Media
You may have recently noticed that every time you check the news, turn on the radio or go on social media, that you are being bombarded with stories about COVOID-19.
As we scroll through the masses of articles it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
As such, it is very important to place some limitations on what we read and listen to:
Exercise and Eat Well
Regular exercise is proven to be highly effective in the management of anxiety. Chemicals like serotonin and endorphins are released into our bodies when we exercise, which is why we tend to feel calmer and happier after a workout.
It has also been proven that, what we consume can minimise or maximise our anxiety. Caffeine, sugar, refined carbs, highly processed foods and alcohol can all exacerbate anxiety. Where possible, try and stick to eating healthy, fresh foods.
Mindfulness and Relaxation Activities
There are a wide range of relaxing and mindful activities we can do at home that can help slow down and re-center our racing minds. Anything that engages our minds and give us a break from our racing thoughts, is extremely helpful.
Establishing a routine is extremely important. Not only does it help promote feelings of control it creates a sense of normality.
If we get up each day, get dressed, have our breakfast and morning coffee, go for our morning walk, it feels a lot more like a normal day and therefore a lot less like a period of significant change.
Having a good routine can also minimise feelings of confusion and tension between couples and families. It can help children (and us) know what to expect each day so that they can adjust better. It can also help make sure parents’ factor in time for each of them to have a break.
Good routines help hold us accountable and break up our day. If we have a strict routine, we are more likely to follow tasks we set for ourselves, including limitations to media, meetings with friends, exercise and mindfulness.
Be kind to yourself and others
It’s important to acknowledge what you are feeling and know that you needn’t be hard on yourself for feeling it. As we have said it is normal to feel uncertain, stressed or even scared in these times. Practice being kind to yourself and understanding that you are not alone in being afraid.
By the same token, remember that the people around you may also be struggling. While it can be easy to judge some people’s behaviour during this time, remember that everyone copes with these challenges differently and may be struggling in their own way.
Communicate and Connect
It is important to continue to communicate with the people around us, even though we cannot see them physically. Make sure you regularly reach out and talk to your partners, family, work colleagues and friends and share how you are feeling.
Staying in touch via various technological platforms is a great way to remain connected, share and support each other, prevent loneliness, and maybe even have a good laugh.
If you try these strategies above but feel that you need additional support, there are numerous mental health support services such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline which you can call anytime.
We also encourage you to reach out to one of our counsellors or psychologists at RelateWell for additional ongoing support. All counselling services are now available over the phone to ensure you can receive support safely. Phone 9354 8854 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
RelateWell, in collaboration with Pronia (formerly Australian Greek Welfare Society Ltd), has been working in the cross-cultural / interfaith / bi-cultural relationships space since 2012. Raising awareness in couples of potential conflict arising from familial expectations and loyalties partners feel towards their family of origin is what we address in our information sessions and/or individual, couple and family counselling.
To highlight the importance of the issue, Hear Me Out on the ABC addressed the issue in: 'What life's really like for an interracial couple'.
If you need assistance in the cross-cultural / interfaith / bi-cultural relationships space, RelateWell and Pronia can assist you.
Relationship counselling is a specialised field.
In the article 'Poorly trained relationship counsellors doing more harm than good', Professor Moloney sees couples counselling as a growing and increasingly important area of therapy, with one in five Australian couples seeking it.
"I think bad therapy is worse than no therapy at all. I think you can actually do damage," he said.
RelateWell prides itself on having a team of psychologists and counsellors whom specialise in working with couples.
To read the article, follow this link.
Source: ABC news
RelateWell's Executive Director Angela Damianopoulos discusses the importance of changing cultural mindset early in the relationship cycle so to offset future problems.