Dr. Paul on managing relationship stress from togetherness

Here are eight tips for addressing the tension partners feel from being cooped up with each other.

During the last six months, many adults have spent an unusual amount of time with their partners. My wife and I are working from home. We bump into each other all day — sometimes it’s more than a bump and instead like a head-on collision.

And then, where can we go on the weekends? While stores, restaurants, parks and beaches are slowly opening up, there is always the ever-present threat of the coronavirus. We’re fortunate that summer is here, with long, wide open sunny days offering great Northwest hikes and outdoor scenery. It provides some relief from all this togetherness.

Couples that had struggles and unresolved problems before our collective quarantine may feel like they’re falling off of a cliff. The increased stress of the coronavirus, economic Armageddon, social unrest and oodles of uncertainty can be like throwing gasoline on a smoldering fire.

Some couples may reach a tipping point. Indeed, in COVID times, there have been dramatic increases in calls to domestic violence hotlines.

So how can we manage this increased togetherness during an unprecedented time of great stress?

Communicate. Don’t keep your feelings in — find a way to share them with your partner. Take some time on a regular basis to check in with each other. How are you doing? What are you worried about? Don’t let your emotions go underground.

Listen. Listening well is both an art and a science. Try to understand what your partner is thinking and feeling. Ask questions. Make sure you understand. Don’t offer unsolicited advice! If your partner wants your opinion or suggestions, she will ask. If each of us works hard to understand each other, we will be able to work together more effectively.

Help and ask for help. This is a time to pitch in and help your partner. And if you feel like you need more help, ask for it.

Take time for yourself. I try to take a walk every day in my neighborhood. Sometimes, Diane and I make a point to go together. But other times, I go by myself. I have a very social job and, as an introvert, I’m nourished by time alone. I like to sit alone on a bench at our local park and simply watch the leaves ripple in the wind. It brings me peace.

Don’t take offense. If your partner loses her cool, says something snarky, or is a regulation grump, cut him some slack. It’s not required to take offense, even though you may feel a big dollop of righteous indignation. If you do take offense, be quick to forgive.

Turn off your phone and laptop. When the day is done, turn off your work email and cellphone. Spend some time without distraction. Make sure to turn off screens well before going to bed.

Put some issues on the back burner. It’s a hard time to address big issues, although they may have become bigger. This is a time for us to focus on getting through this pandemic as gracefully as we can. We may choose to put off addressing some of our long-time concerns.

Get help. Ask your health care provider for a referral to a therapist who specializes in marriage counseling. A few sessions with an objective specialist can make a big difference.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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