Rumor of increasing divorce rates due to COVID 19 are not very well documented; so I will not exaggerate them here. However, we can guess that there will be additional pressures on couples and families. Existing problems are likely to be intensified with increased time together for couples who are at a impasse. However, for couples whose relationship suffers under demands of too many hours away at work will be relieved with increased increased time together while sheltering in place.
Are you concerned that your marriage is heading toward divorce? There are now good tools for identifying the relationship dynamics of couples who are on the brink. The famed “four horsemen” in Gottman’s research: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling occur in nearly every relationship. When they show up in an intimate relationship they are clear markers of trouble.
In my experience, the Four Horsemen are indicators that connection has eroded and that one or both partners are in such duress that they mistakenly believe they are on their own and perhaps that their partner is their enemy. Humans are wired with a strong hormonal survival response, and when they feel threatened, it is natural that they survey their environment for threats. This natural instinct causes reactivity and fights not easily resolved.
Couples often fail to resolve conflict when they attempt to manage their own anxiety by attempting to change their partner. They succeed in resolving conflict when they learn to manage their anxiety independently, and work to change themselves rather than others.
What does this have to do with COVID 19?
Sudden, drastic changes to the way we live together increases anxiety. The threat of illness, isolation, fears we may lose our jobs or income will increase anxiety in marriages. Couples may be well acclimated to a routine of spending many hours a day apart. Once both are working from home anxiety will increase as the proximate distance versus closeness changes. The same is true with parents and children. We love each other but our boundaries and routines are all challenged in a quarantine. It is very easy to identify your partner as the problem, when deep down it is the changes and uncertainty causing anxiety for you and probably everyone else you love.
Work on your self management
As part of managing your own anxiety, think about how you can take charge of your space, your need to have time apart from others, to have structured and unstructured time. Recognize your partner may have different needs or expectations. While kids can be expected to act out under such major changes; as adults we ought to be striving to take care of ourselves. We need to be intentional and independently find ways to self soothe and regulate our emotional states and behavior.
Do you need mindfulness helps? Get them. They are everywhere on the internet. I like Korumindfulness.com.
Do you need more exercise? Take a walk. Do yoga.
Do you miss your colleagues and friends? Call them. Set up check-ins as well as task oriented meetings.
Dr Orna Guralnik who’s a therapist at the center of Showtime’s Couples Therapy talks about Coronavirus and how the changes it’s force on couples are impacting relationships. What may have been an idyllic life together in January may now feel like an oppressive torture chamber.
She recommends building in the structures that external life formerly forced on us. Structure time and space are very powerful ways to do that.
Couples’ Counseling is also an important tool; especially for couples who feel stuck or just locked into the same power struggle. Please call or email if you want to schedule an initial consultation. Online sessions are now available.
Stay tuned for more: upcoming….. Protect your relationship: Think clearly before declaring your problem a relationship problem.