The stress of living through a pandemic is putting relationships to the test. There’s not a single one of us who isn’t dealing with a tremendous amount of stress right now. Work issues, tight living quarters, financial uncertainty, fears about the health of our loved ones, fears of getting sick ourselves, and as we all know, stress does not bring out the best in us.
So how can you keep your relationship from crumbling under the weight of these challenges?
1. Bring back date night.
Social distancing guidelines may have foiled your go-to date night plans. You can’t hire a babysitter, eat at a restaurant or catch a movie in theaters. But you can still carve out some time to connect at home setting aside at least several hours per week for just the two of you. Meet up in the backyard or on the balcony. Dress in your finest if you wish, have a drink together (non-alcoholic is fine), slow dance, and play charades or a board game. Try and keep the conversation light, humorous and optimistic. This should be a time to step away from the stress of COVID-19 and reconnect with your partner.
2. Cut each other some slack — more than you usually would.
We’re living through a highly stressful, unsettling, anxiety-inducing time. Under these conditions, it’s difficult to present the best versions of ourselves. So be gentle on each other when tensions inevitably arise. Find compassion for yourself and your partner when arguments come up and realize that it’s likely a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Don’t rush to judge the quality of your relationship right now, and continue to find ways to communicate and be vulnerable about difficult feelings. Have compassion around the fact that this is hard.
That’s not to say everyone should get a pass for all bad behavior right now. You can gently call out your partner for their snippy remark or harsh tone without escalating the incident into a bigger fight. If one or both of you are short-tempered or impatient, don’t turn it into a federal case. Keep in mind that when we’re under pressure, most of us need some TLC far more than we need a lecture about not being nice.
3. Prioritize your alone time.
Stay-at-home orders have led to a whole lot of forced togetherness, for better and worse. It turns out that the time you used to spend on your daily commute or at the gym was actually really important for your mental health and relationship. Finding those pockets of “me” time may be a challenge these days so you need to be intentional about giving each other space. Be understanding if your partner needs some time with a book, video game, Zoom call or wants to put in some earbuds to listen to music. Also, if you are fortunate enough to be working from home right now, try to give each other your own dedicated space to work.
4. Practice self-care together.
Find a few self-care rituals that you can do together. You may have self-care rituals that you prefer to practice solo, but also try to find some nourishing activities that you can do as a couple: meditating together in the morning, walking outside after lunch, or sipping tea and sharing a few things you’re grateful for before bed.
Being able to do these things together helps to build your connection to each other, while also engaging in healthy ways to cope with the stress that comes while in quarantine. Keeping a healthy headspace will be good for you and your relationship.
5. Create a quarantine routine that works for you.
When the world around us is chaotic, maintaining a consistent daily routine can make you feel more grounded. Set some structure around your day-to-day activities. Decide mealtimes, leisure times, time as a couple or family, and time alone. This will help reduce anxiety, especially if you have kids at home.
6. Stop keeping score on who’s doing more around the house.
Couples’ systems for divvying up household duties like cooking, cleaning, laundry, walking the dog and taking care of the kids have been turned upside down during the pandemic. Though this division of labor may have had its frustrations and imbalances back then, it was at least predictable. Now, for many of us, the rules have changed. One partner may be working 18-hour hospital shifts and keeping a distance from the family, or one partner with flexible work hours doing most of the child care and home schooling. A good rule of thumb: Do as much as you can, express gratitude for your partner’s contribution and accept that there’s likely too much to do.
Given the mounting responsibilities, don’t get hung up on making sure everything’s divided evenly. Remember that your partner is probably doing their best — there’s just a lot on both of your plates right now. Do as much as you can, express gratitude for your partner’s contribution and accept that there’s likely too much to do.
7. Don’t try to resolve long-standing conflicts right now.
This probably isn’t the best time to hash out major relationship problems that existed prior to the quarantine. If there are smaller, specific grievances you need to air, bring them up but stay focused on the issue at hand. Avoid resorting to criticism or making sweeping generalizations that attack your partner’s character. For example, don’t criticize or try to control a partner who wishes to return to work. Instead, state how you feel and make the small request for change. Saying something like, ‘I get scared at the idea of you going back to the office so soon. Can we decide together around the timing for that?’ is much more likely to get a positive response.
For some couples, things have gotten better and for others, much worse. If it’s gotten really contentious between you both, online therapy is readily available to help you better navigate your relationship. Don’t hesitate to get professional help.
With the current coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping through our country and the world. We are reminded daily of the suffering families and individuals are experiencing with the loss of their loved ones. Their grief and loss can become ours. The people that remain behind after they lose someone that they loved and cared for are experiencing great sadness, grief and loss. I am reminded of the five stages of grief and loss that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
The 5 stages of grief and loss are: Denial and isolation, Anger, Bargaining and Depression; Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
The stages of grief and mourning are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures. Mourning occurs in response to an individual’s own terminal illness, the loss of a close relationship, or to the death of a valued being, human, or animal. In our bereavement, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. Contrary to popular belief, the five stages of loss do not necessarily occur in any specific order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death. Many of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve this final stage of grief.
The death of our loved ones might inspire us to evaluate our own feelings of mortality. Throughout each stage, a common thread of hope emerges: As long as there is life, there is hope. As long as there is hope, there is life.
Many people do not experience the stages of grief in the order listed below, which is perfectly okay and normal. The key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in precise order. Instead, it’s more helpful to look at them as guides in the grieving process — it helps you understand and put into context where you are.
Please keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry. You should try and not judge how a person experiences their grief, as each person will experience it differently.
1. Denial & Isolation
The first reaction to learning about the terminal illness, loss, or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,” people often think. It is a normal reaction to rationalize our overwhelming emotions.
Denial is a common defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions. We block out the words and hide from the facts. We start to believe that life is meaningless, and nothing is of any value any longer. For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family.
Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us even more angry.
Remember, grieving is a personal process that has no time limit, nor one “right” way to do it.
The doctor who diagnosed the illness and was unable to cure the disease might become a convenient target. Health professionals deal with death and dying every day. That does not make them immune to the suffering of their patients or to those who grieve for them.
Do not hesitate to ask your doctor to give you extra time or to explain just once more the details of your loved one’s illness. Arrange a special appointment or ask that he telephone you at the end of his day. Ask for clear answers to your questions regarding medical diagnosis and treatment. Understand the options available to you. Take your time.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements, such as:
If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
This is an attempt to bargain. Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable, and the accompanying pain. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
Guilt often accompanies bargaining. We start to believe there was something we could have done differently to have helped save our loved one.
There are two types of depression that are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words.
The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.
Reaching this stage of grieving is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited. The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
According to a study published in the Journal of Communication, people in long-distance relationships were more likely to share meaningful thoughts and feelings with their partners than those who were not. Apparently, couples in long-distance relationships tend to idealize their partners’ behaviors, which leads to a greater sense of intimacy. However, being apart is definitely trying at times, even for couples with a relatively strong foundation.
Below, I have compiled edited excerpts from people that highlight the tenets of maintaining a successful long-distant relationship.
Tip 1: Be ready to work twice as hard as you did before.
“I met my boyfriend when I was in high school. In the fall he left to attend college in a year-round program in Utah. I stayed behind and finished up high school and then attended a local college. Even though we were young, we knew our relationship was the one worth fighting for so we were determined to get through those years. We have now been together a total of 12 years and have been married for the last five.”
What this couple learned is one of the foundations of a successful long-distance relationship. Long distance couples need to work toward having a very strong, solid base in their relationship Be open, honest, and trusting. Take the time to figure out how and when is best to communicate with each other. Work at making each other feel special, even without seeing each other. All the things you work on during a normal relationship will need extra effort for in a long-distance relationship.
Tip 2: Establish some ground rules about when you’ll see each other.
“My husband and I did long distance for five and a half years in total, with me working and going to school in Toronto and him in school in Florida. We had a rule to never go more than six weeks without seeing one another in person and we pretty much stuck to that. We were still living apart when we got married and it took one year after we were married for my green card to arrive, at which point I moved to the states.
Tip 3: Call and text each other throughout the day.
Don’t wait to talk with your partner at the end of the day when you are tired. Make your partner part of your daily life.
“My wife and I have had to do the long-distance thing twice in our relationship. When we first met she lived about an hour away in San Jose and I lived in San Francisco. After we got married I was working in San Francisco and she was in Los Angeles and we only got a few days a month to see each other. We learned that you have to call and text each other during the day and share what’s going on.”
Tip 4: Don’t forget to schedule regular online video chats.
It is really essential that you and your partner have a schedule for when you’ll talk. Today we are fortunate that we have so many different modes of contact these days, but texting is not enough to keep a long-distance relationship going. To maintain a strong relationship, you need to talk on the phone, but preferably something like Skype, as often as you can.
Tip 5: Try to think of the big picture.
“My partner and I met in university and had been together for about three and a half years before he had to leave Nigeria for his graduate degree in London. We were apart for about two years. We had to constantly remind ourselves that the distance was for a short while and as we really wanted to be together, we had to make it work. This sort of gives a perspective on things and helps sail through any difficulties. This was really important in the grand scheme of things. It also helped in our future plans, as I was more inclined to go London for my own graduate program, so that we could be together.”
Tip 6: Celebrate everything.
“My husband I had had known each other in college. He left for the Navy, and then we started dating. At that point, we were a few states away. Right after we became engaged, he was deployed overseas for a year. What we learned is this: Celebrate everything, even if you can’t be together in person. Life is too short not to and that’s especially true when you’re in a long-distance relationship.”
Tip 7: Get a credit card that earns airline miles.
“I was located in New York City while my husband Matt was in Miami Beach. We had a commuter relationship for two years. I was able to get complimentary flights almost every other month this way from my American Express card. Make sure to pick a card with an airline component so you can rack up the points
Tip 8: Don’t worry if every visit isn’t perfect.
There can be a lot pressure on a couple when they visit each other. Do you hang out with your partner and friends in a social setting or stay home to have one-on-one time? Does your family want to spend time with you and your partner? Does one of you need to work or study during the visit? Is there a big conversation hovering like an elephant in the room and do you have that talk face to face, when you have limited time together, or over the phone later? Some trips will be full of great memories and carefree times, and some will be full of fighting over big or small issues and that’s OK! ‘Real’ relationships are full of ups and downs and long-distance relationships are no exception.”
A co-dependent person works so hard to control and fix someone else that his/her own life is in turmoil as a result. Because we are powerless over other people, no one can really control anyone else, and others’ troubles are mostly due to patterns only they can change, a codependent person is in for one painful disappointment after another.
The term powerless does not mean helpless. Up until now you have been powerless over your thoughts, feelings and actions and have led you to believe that your needs should be sacrificed for others, regardless of the consequences. Co-dependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem all blend together to create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being too close to another person or being alone. Very often the codependent’s self-esteem and self-worth comes from sacrificing themselves for their partner and their partner will gladly accept their sacrifice.
Signs of codependency may include:
Below are twenty questions I have created for my clients to help provide them with an understanding of their codependent relationships and the impact of their on themselves and their partner.
If you believe you struggle with codependence, thoughtfully answer the questions below and if you are currently working with a therapist, process your answers with your therapist.
Most depression drugs work by changing the balance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which affect your mood. They include serotonin, noradrenaline, and norepinephrine. Your primary care doctor can prescribe antidepressants. But if your symptoms are severe, they’ll refer you to a psychiatrist. That’s a doctor who specializes in mental health. Medication can help with depression symptoms, but it doesn’t always treat the causes of your depression.
Different classes of antidepressants work on different brain chemicals. Tricyclics (TCAs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) raise serotonin and norepinephrine levels in your brain. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) raise serotonin. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) stop monoamine neurotransmitters from breaking down.
Talk to your doctor if your symptoms haven’t improved after 3 months. You may need a stronger dose or a different antidepressant. Many people don’t get relief from the first antidepressant they try. Also, depression meds may stop working in a small number of people who’ve been taking them for a while. If this happens to you, your doctor can help. Work together to find the treatment that’s right for you. It may take time.
The FDA says the generic drugs it approves are as effective as the brand-name versions. Both types have the same active ingredient. Ask your doctor if you can take the generic form of a drug. It may cost less than the brand-name version.
You may be tempted to quit taking your medicine even though it’s working well. Or you might think about stopping because the dosing schedule is inconvenient, or because there are unpleasant side effects. Also, some people with depression don’t improve with antidepressants and must explore other treatment options.
If newer antidepressants don’t work, your doctor may prescribe cyclic antidepressants. These were some of the first antidepressants made. They raise serotonin and norepinephrine levels in your brain.
Keep taking your antidepressants for as long as your doctor says so (usually at least 6 months). Do this even if you feel better sooner, or your depression could return. Don’t be shy in telling your doctor about any side effects. There are often ways to manage them. For example, taking your antidepressant with food can help nausea. If you’re having sexual problems, your doctor may change your medicine or add another one. If you feel fatigued, try taking your medicine 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. If the antidepressant causes insomnia, take it in the morning. Many side effects go away on their own after a few weeks.
The antidepressants used most often today have fewer side effects and drug interactions than older versions. Still, any antidepressant can interact with other medications. Let your doctor know about any new prescription drug, over-the-counter medicine, or dietary supplement you plan to take. These could affect how your depression medication works. It’s important to keep going to all your doctor appointments while you’re on antidepressants.
It’s common for depression to come back. That’s called a relapse. Your doctor may change the dose -- or prescribe a new medication -- if your symptoms return. Be sure to tell your doctor about any major changes in your life, such as losing a job, developing another medical condition, or becoming pregnant.
Your medication may make you feel jumpy or nervous. Exercise can help. Try a relaxing workout like yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Your doctor can switch you to a different antidepressant if that doesn’t help. Some people worry antidepressants will turn them into a “robot.” The fact is, antidepressants can ease feelings of sadness, but they don’t get rid of your emotions.
Another myth is that you’ll need to take the drugs for life. A typical course of antidepressants lasts 6 to 12 months in people who’ve had only a single episode of major depression. But you may need treatment longer if you’ve had multiple episodes of depression in your life. Also, if you’ve heard antidepressants are physically addictive, that’s not true. Still, you could have unpleasant symptoms if you stop taking them suddenly.
Studies show “talk” therapy and antidepressants are often the most effective way to treat depression. Types of therapy include cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors, and interpersonal therapy, which focuses on your relationships with others.
Exercise releases endorphins, chemicals linked to improved mood and lower rates of depression. Several studies suggest regular exercise is an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. Group workouts or exercising with a partner may also be helpful.
Your doctor will help you figure out the right time to stop your antidepressants. Quitting suddenly can cause unpleasant side effects or even a relapse. You could go into withdrawal for up to 2 weeks. You might be dizzy, nauseous, tired, or have headaches. Or you might get vertigo, which is when you feel like you or things around you are moving. Your depression symptoms may come back, too. Work with your doctor to slowly stop taking your medicine.
Rarely does a person emerge from childhood completely unscathed. Most of us learn to protect ourselves with defense mechanisms and personality traits that ensure our safety in the world. By adopting certain behavioral patterns, we unconsciously or consciously seek security and stability. We wear different kinds of masks to keep us from getting too hurt. However, in doing so, we close ourselves off from authentic relationships and stay stuck in the scabs of our childhood wounds.
By identifying our protective shields, we can begin to heal from past hurts and enjoy deeper intimacy with our loved ones. While our coping strategies are as varied as our personalities, here are ten of the most typical masks we wear.
Ask yourself: Which mask do you wear?
The Cool Guy
By all outward appearances, this person seems to have mastered whatever it takes to stay calm in all situations. Unrattled by conflict or chaos, this person possesses the composure of a Zen Master. However, beneath the surface, one of two things happen. His bottled-up emotions either result in a nervous breakdown, or he periodically presses the release valve when no one is around, snapping at folks subordinate to him. He lambasts the waiter for forgetting his coffee or fires off a nasty email to his assistant for a small error.
Humor is a brilliant defense mechanism. I use it myself. If you’re laughing, you’re not crying, even though they can look the same. That said, it can and does prevent intimacy. Sarcasm, especially, tends to be rooted in pain and is not without consequences.
The humorist tells a joke to skirt sincere discussions, to keep conversations from getting too real or deep. Uncomfortable with conflict, he will charm his way out of confrontation. His comedy serves as protective shield. As such, he doesn’t allow anyone in, and is lonely.
Some people unconsciously pursue perfectionism as a defense against annihilation. If everything is done right, then their world can’t fall apart. While the accolades and praise associated with being a perfectionist may provide some temporary relief, the perfectionist is always at the mercy of something going wrong, and therefore lives in a constant state of anxiety. Her stubbornness, obsessiveness, and lack of trust build a barrier between her and her loved ones.
Most of us know a martyr, a person who boasts that she has single-handedly saved the world with her selfless actions. While martyrs can bring families together with compassion, their exaggeration of sacrifices drives loved ones away. The drama with which they do good serves as a protective shield from the very people who they are helping. The martyr secures her place in the world by believing her role is critical, all the while making everyone uncomfortable around her.
Every environment in which we work and play is a 5th grade schoolyard with its shares of bullies. Their assertion of control can be subtle, a gentle manipulation to make you see it their way, or can be aggressive, even physical. While bullies appear to be confident in their forceful delivery of opinions and order, they are innately insecure. They want so badly to be respected that they will break the rules of appropriate conduct to get that esteem. Self-doubt drives their hostile behavior; an obsessive need to feel right that comes at the expense of others’ rights and feelings.
The Control Freak
The control freak uses order and power to achieve a sense of security. By making sure everything is in its proper place, he relieves his fear of the unknown, of ambiguity, of uncertainty. A mother hen, the control freak won’t let anyone out of her sight, and assumes responsibility for all those around her, even when they don’t want to be cared for. He becomes unraveled when anyone deviates from the plan.
Suffering from a chronic case of unworthiness and insecurity, the self-basher projects a negative view of herself to others. Perhaps unconsciously, she believes that she can insulate herself from hurt by hurting herself first. She, then, berates herself and insults herself as a protective measure against any potential zingers coming her way. Self-deprecation becomes a defense mechanism with which she avoids any risk of intimacy.
The people-pleaser will go to desperate lengths to win the approval of those around her, because her sense of identity is largely based on the assessment of others. Her values often vacillate depending on the input of the day because she looks to outside sources to validate who she is. This mask-type solicits the advice of friends, doctors, experts, co-workers, and mentors because she lacks a strong foundation. Easily influenced by others, decisions are especially difficult for her.
The timid person or introvert is deathly afraid of failure and rejection. He would much rather feel the pangs of loneliness than risk not being liked. Like the perfectionist, he is so afraid of making a mistake that he refuses to challenge himself. He blushes easily, is embarrassed easily, and doesn’t say much for fear of saying the wrong thing.
The Social Butterfly
Although the life of the party, the social butterfly is innately lonely. They compensates for feelings of insecurity with their gift of gab and small talk. They have many acquaintances but few, if any, real friends. Although their calendar is packed full of social events, but their life lacks meaning. They keep their conversations superficial because deeper dialogues may expose their anxiety or shed their confident persona.
Marriage & Family Therapist and Registered Addiction Specialist