Ask Dr. Paul: Maintain healthy relationships in trying time

We all want our loved ones to remember how patient, kind and loving we were during the pandemic.

Couples are experiencing added pressures in their relationships due to the pandemic. They are spending more time together, sometimes in cramped quarters. There’s increased stress and worry with fewer ways to relieve tension. It can be a recipe for constant bickering.

We need to work hard to maintain healthy relationships during this trying time. Let’s look at ways to help our relationships with loved ones stay strong.

Q: How do I nurture a healthy relationship during this intense time?

A: We can’t visit with friends, go to restaurants, movie theatres or baseball games. Sadly, many of us are out of work and experiencing financial hardships. To manage the stress that comes with these new challenges, it’s important to have loved ones to lean on. But we can’t do that if we’re arguing with and resenting those who are most important to us.

So, how can we maintain healthy relationships while at home?

Get away from each other. Take a walk by yourself, go into an empty room and read, or take a solo bike ride. Sure, we love to spend time with our loved ones — but taking time to yourself and clearing your mind is important.

Breathe. Take several long, slow, deep breaths when you start to feel irritable. Reach up to the sky and stretch your body. Lie down, close your eyes and imagine yourself lying on a warm beach.

This is not the time to resolve big issues with your loved one. Relationship issues don’t disappear just because there is a pandemic. In fact, they’re likely to intensify with the increased stress and social disruption. Agree to address big issues when life returns to some semblance of normality.

Limit alcohol consumption. It’s easy for more alcohol to flow in the average household. Boredom, stress, worry and the disruption of normal life is a recipe for too many cocktails after 5 p.m. — or before. Excess alcohol, increased irritability and sustained stress is a recipe for disaster. Be smart.

Take an online class. Yoga studios, dance schools and gyms are offering free online classes to help us stay healthy, at ease and engaged during a very uncomfortable time. It’s a great time to find a new hobby. You might find that you like it enough to continue it when life returns as we know it.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Let your partner know what you’re thinking and feeling. Don’t hold everything in — share your fears, worries and concerns. Listen to each other, without trying to reassure each other. We just need to get our fears out into the open air.

Don’t give your partner unsolicited advice. I’m still learning to keep quiet when my wife can’t find her reading glasses. Most adults don’t appreciate advice they haven’t asked for, even if it’s good advice.

Be patient. This is a great time to cultivate patience and kindness with each other. When you wake up every morning —make an affirmation to yourself, “I will be patient and kind to my loved one.” It will help you navigate through these rough waters.

Step up. This is truly an unprecedented time, presenting challenges that none of us have experienced before. It’s time to step up and become the best selves we can be. The going is tough — and we need to be as tough as these times.

We can do it. We will get through this and life will eventually go on in a more normal way. We want our loved ones to remember how good we were during this time — how patient, kind and loving we were.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog. Do you have a behavioral-health question related to COVID-19? Sending your questions to askdrpaul@everettclinic.com.

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