By Marie Choppin
In the last 18 months, we’ve witnessed the impact of the pandemic on every aspect of our lives in ways we never could have anticipated – our relationships are no exception.
Initially, in the early stages of the pandemic, many people assumed that the unprecedented amount of time together at home would increase rates of fighting and divorce among many couples. This assumption was based on the notion that the social isolation from friends, co-workers, and oftentimes, family, in combination with the stresses and uncertainty associated with the pandemic, would put intolerable strain on relationships.
However, despite all odds and preconceived assumptions, a surprising number of relationships actually improved during the turmoil of the pandemic. All things considered, couples rose to the challenge this year, and the experiences that were expected to destroy relationships actually served as means of strengthening them. This year demonstrated that unfamiliar and tough experiences can help people grow stronger bonds, which enhances the quality of a relationship.
Now, we are entering another phase of the Pandemic after having had some reprieve this summer which felt so freeing and hopeful. Unfortunately, with the Delta variant on the rise and Fall fast approaching, many relationships face another difficult and unprecedented challenge of adjusting to some return to “normal life” with work/life balance changing and children heading back into school. Stress is increasing, again, and all relationships, whether new, old, strong, or struggling, will be put to the test during this readjustment to a different lifestyle. This readjustment will be an uncomfortable transition period for many couples, and it is important to approach it together in a thoughtful way.
Here are some helpful tips for how to best prepare your relationship for the adjustment to post-pandemic life:
- Take time to discuss feelings. Sharing with each other what you are feeling about this upcoming change is vital. Discuss what are the things you will miss about the last pandemic time, what you are worried about in this new phase and what type of support you both need.
- Be intentional about keeping Pandemic rituals that worked. There are aspects of your pandemic experience that you liked in your new schedule. Perhaps you had family dinners each night because it was possible with everyone home or you shared more of the childcare duties. If this felt important to you, as a couple, work on keeping those aspects in place. Or perhaps you became more aware of how hard your partner worked to juggle the demands of home life and work and the partnership became more equal. If that worked for your relationship, then make sure to keep up that aspect of life and find time to discuss how to make this happen.
- Carve out weekly relationship discussion time. Making time to discuss the relationship and how things are going can really help create connection and prevent a buildup of stress and resentment and/or guilt. This isn’t a time for logistics – that should be at another time. It’s a vital time to nurture your relationship and not let things build up.
- Share gratitude, appreciation, and humor. These are such simple things to do but most couples don’t take time to really, intentionally, share what they are appreciating and/or are grateful for in their partner or in their life, in general. Research abounds about the value of being grateful and how it affects positive attitude, joy, and optimism. Humor comes with feeling relaxed and being able to be creative and finding those moments can also bring some levity and connection which can sustain you in moments of struggle.
- Foster patience, flexibility, and empathy. Each person in a relationship has their own personal family history, possibly a trauma or mental health history and relationship history along with their own temperament and ways of coping which can affect how each person reacts during stressful and crisis-oriented situations. Try to keep in mind your own and your partner’s personal stories and ways of being in the world and having patience, flexibility and empathy will go a long way towards keeping connected and building the capacity to share your feelings and hearts with one another as this next phase of the pandemic emerges.
Relationships take a lot of work, communication and love and hopefully, remembering some of the above tips will help you on your journey through the coming months and becoming stronger and more resilient to make it through this unprecedented time in history.
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