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Love and Dating in the Time of Coronavirus – 6 Relationship Experts Share How To Quarantine-Proof Your Relationship

by Janice Mcwilliams – LCPC, MDiv, MS, Kavita Hatten – MS, LPC, Kendra O’Hora – Ph.D., LCMFT, Dana Hall – LCPC, MA, TF-CBT, Melanie Ricaurte – PsyD, MEd, Sally LeBoy – MS, MFT

Love and Dating in the Time of Coronavirus

“Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.”

~ Mandy Hale

Mandy Hale Trust the Wait Quote
Janice Mcwilliams

As you are spending so much time in your house with our partner, are you finding yourself becoming irritable? Snippy? Impatient? 

When our stress hormones run amok and our happy/bonding hormones are reduced, the first sign of this imbalance is irritability. 

Nothing grinds the warmth out of a romantic relationship quite like irritability. 

We do well during this time of sheltering at home to have boundaries around the avenues for the stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) to enter in AND we should commit to daily practices that help release the happy, bonding hormones into our body (oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins) as well.

A lot of people are suggesting good ways to limit the stress hormones; namely, limiting our access to news and social media that jar our amygdala (the fear center of our brains) into action far too many times in any given day if we aren’t careful to have boundaries. 

The other best practice is to manage the main cognitive process that exacerbates anxiety: WORRY. 

The more we can focus our attention on the present moment and stay out of our heads, the better off we will be. 

To increase the happy, bonding hormones, I have three suggestions:

1. Cuddle: 

Certainly, this may mean cuddling with your partner, and it could also  mean sex with your partner—both release oxytocin. But it means much more than that: cuddling with your dog, stroking your cat, or huddling up with the kids to watch a movie! 

It means giving and receiving hugs and back rubs from whoever is in your house. It means pretzeling your legs while you watch Netflix or playing with your partner’s hair or letting your kids “style” yours. All of these activities help the bonding hormones emerge out of the stress.

2. Be Silly:  

Have a daily dance party, watch Late Night TV or Car Karaoke. Have a daily loud time, especially if you have been shushing kids all day so that you can work. 

Read funny things to each other and watch the mood shift. Dopamine will enter the system and smooth the rough edges that had you so wound up against your partner a few minutes ago.

3. Connect: 

While it may seem like endless time together would mean you don’t need to intentionally connect, I beg to differ. Connecting on an emotional level requires intention for most of us. 

Start with an emotion:  “I’m feeling ______ (frustrated, sad, scared, tender….etc)” and then take 1-2 minutes to fill that out. Then have your partner do the same. 

If you practice these things daily you will be doing the good work of balancing the hormones in your body and making you less irritable and FAR more tolerable to live with! 

Your hormones may get so out of balance that you have no desire to do any of things things, but if you are intentional and commit to them, the hormones WILL follow and your relationship will be much better of for having done it. 

If you want to know more about dealing with anxiety during this time of crisis, try my online course:  https://janicemcwilliams.thinkific.com/courses/anxiety-toolbox-for-the-covid-19-crisis

Janice F Mcwilliams, LCPC, MDiv, MS – www.janicemcwilliams.com

Kavita Hatten

During these challenging times, you’re not alone if your relationship is suffering. With many lives uprooted, individuals and couples are forced to navigate unchartered territory and find a “new normal” in their daily lives.

While uncertainty triggers some of our deepest human fears – loss of independence, loss of health, loss of security, loss of connection and loss of family, anxiety and even panic can be the new normal.

In a panic state our primal instincts take over, shutting off parts of our “rational brain” (pre-frontal cortex). Our less evolved “emotional brain” kicks into “fight, flight or freeze” to ward off danger (perceived or real) with the main goal to protect ourselves and keep our loved ones safe.

If you find yourself in this place, recognize there are steps you can take to manage your anxiety, channel your fears and improve communication.

Here are ways to strengthen your relationship during COVID-19:

1. Recognize fear 

If you are fearful, recognize it. The minute you label it, you disarm it. But fear can be masked by other emotions like anger and anxiety. You may not catch it at first, but if you pay close attention and are mindful, you will.

2. Talk about “it”

Ask your partner questions: “Are you afraid?” “What are you scared about?” “What are you afraid will happen?” “What is the worst thing that can happen?” Sharing fears will reduce feelings of overwhelm. Take this time as an opportunity to improve your communication.

3. Establish a routine

Simple daily routines can help you through times of increased stress. A routine can be a set time you wake up each day, scheduling daily exercise (gentle exercise like walking or yoga), eating healthy meals, getting proper sleep and scheduling breaks from work or school.

This is a self-care practice that you (and your partner) can practice daily. Focusing on what you have control over and grounding yourself is key when so much of what’s around you is changing.

4. Respect differences

You may overreact and your partner under react. You may want space and your partner seeks togetherness. You may want to talk and your partner seeks quietude. This is normal. All of this is normal. 

If you don’t understand your partner’s needs or behavior, ask questions. “What makes that important for you?” “Can you help me understand?”

5. Practice compassion

There’s no “right” way to do this. Notice when you’re judging yourself and your partner. It’s okay that you don’t know what to do and that you’re falling apart some days. You’ll have good days and bad, and your partner will too. The kinder that you are to yourself, the kinder you’ll be to others.

6. Focus on strengths

Work together to determine what tasks take priority. Divide tasks based on each partner’s strengths and comfort level. For example, one person may be more comfortable going out in public to get groceries than the other. Be mindful when you’re negating the importance of your partner’s tasks and appreciate his/her efforts instead.

During times of rapid change, we resort to old ways of thinking and behaving and rely on “survival mode” to get us through. 

We are less mindful of how we’re thinking and feeling and no longer “witness” our own behavior, even when it’s causing us more stress. 

But in the midst of uncertainty, you can rely on what’s helped you in the past and the capacity to get through difficult times – your “bounce back.”

And if you take it a day at a time, stay connected and support each other, trust that you’ll get through this together

Kavita A. Hatten, MS, LPC – www.phoenixcounseling.net

Kendra O Hora

So, is there a way to quarantine proof your relationship if you are stresssssed? I say yes.

With three things: intentionality, empathy, and intimacy.

During this time I’ve seen more clients via tele-therapy tell me that they are aimlessly scrolling through social media and news channels. So, it’s time to use your intentionality superpowers for good.

Intentionality Step Number One: 

Put that phone on the charger and leave it there. Set some boundaries so that you can honestly focus on your partnership without the noise of the world.

You know what else is intentional? Setting time to be together and time to be apart. 

It is 100% OK to need space – so, schedule it! Carve out windows of time to do yo’ own thing! And while you’re at it, carve out time together to cook, complete a puzzle, start a new show – Tiger King, anyone?, or do something creative.

My final though on intentionality: check-in. 

Please oh please, check in! Ask your partner a simple question: “what is one thing I could work on that would make you feel more loved during this time?” Check-ins keep our relationships strong and attuned.

Attunement leads us right into empathy. Let’s call on our dear friend, Brené Brown to remind us, what’s empathy?

Feeling with people.

Whether your partner is super emotional or not, s/he is experiencing emotion during this time. 

So, give yourself an emotional check and then turn toward your person and ask: 

“Would you share three emotions you experienced today and why?” Or 

how about, “Tell me something you read, heard, or experienced that impacted you.”

Not all our partners love to talk but if you want have a secure foundation when this is all over you need to ramp up the attunement and dial in to hear and understand each other’s needs.

Finally, intimacy

And yes, I’m talking sex. Because to be honest, sex is grounding, enlivening, and comforting.

When we engage in sex our bodies are reminded of the importance of our bond, our connection, and our aliveness.

And, if sex isn’t your favorite thing then start with naked cuddling for fifteen minutes a day. This is the number one exercise I give for homework in couples therapy when I’m looking for couples to foster closeness.

Quarantine can make your bond fragile, stressed, and agitated. 

Sex can soften those edges by reminding us of our humanness, our rawness, and our sensory experience.

In the midst of a global pandemic is not the time to compare your relationship to anyone else. Don’t let them fool you on social media – every relationship is impacted right now.

So, …

  1. Check in with your partner and be intentional about doing life together.
  2. Make space for his emotions because his experience is valid.
  3. Initiate all the naked cuddling, hot showers, and sex time your body needs.

Do these things because your relationship matters and because you deserve a quarantined proof bond.

Kendra O’Hora, Ph.D., LCMFT – www.wellnessandco.org

Sally LeBoy

We are all running blind here. Nobody has been in a situation like this so nobody really knows what the norms should be. I am relying on what I know about stress, people and relationships so if this doesn’t apply to you that’s ok.

I’m going to start by addressing stress because its constant presence is so harmful to people. 

Stress pumps chemicals into the system that are meant for short bursts of intense energy. Stress chemicals are needed in a fight or flight situation. The kind of stress that we’re all feeling is different. Our stress comes from a high degree of uncertainty on a lot of levels. 

Of course there is the fear that we, or someone we love, might get sick or even die. 

There are financial concerns as the economy continues to suffer affecting people’s livelihood. And maybe the biggest stressor of all is that nobody knows how long this will last or what a recovery might look like. We don’t know what a post COVID-19 world will look like. We’re all just pretty sure that things will never be the same.

We all need to learn ways to manage the stress so that our bodies are not constantly flooded with harmful chemicals. 

Working out, yoga, meditating, walking, jogging, anything that engages your body enough so that you aren’t in a constant state of worry are all helpful in managing stress.

Individually we are all trying to adapt without any road map to guide us. 

I have been of the opinion that pushing oneself into a lot of what we think we “should” do may not be the best approach. 

This is a challenging time and it might be better to just pay attention to what you are actually feeling and needing even if it doesn’t seem that productive. 

I think that eventually we will all find our rhythm. Most people really don’t want to just veg out for 18 hours a day. 

At first you might, but at some point you’ll get bored and need some kind of creative outlet. 

By creative I don’t mean an art project although that could be wonderful if you’re artistic. I mean something that engages your mind and/or body. This is an opportunity to explore options that wouldn’t have been possible in your pre-COVID life. I’m learning a new language (which I hope to use sometime soon!). Reading, puzzles, games, learning chess, even watching good TV are all good ways to keep interested in life.

Because we are living in close quarters without any real breaks, managing relationships can become difficult. 

Most of us just aren’t used to this much togetherness. Things that can be overlooked when your partner isn’t around all the time can get harder to put up with. 

I think relationships fare better when there is an effort by both partners to manage their own stress; each partner takes responsibility for his or her self and doesn’t rely on the relationship/partner to make things better. 

Being mindful of how you live together is important. 

I think we need an extra level of civility and consideration. We also need to remember that everyone is anxious, so cutting each other some slack is a really good idea. 

If your partner is snappy, try not to take it personally. 

Give each other the benefit of the doubt. However, if tensions are rising, you really do have to talk about it. Again, listening and not blaming will go a long way in keeping harmony in the relationship. 

Don’t be critical and don’t be defensive. 

It would be great if we could all be our best selves in tis trying time, but because it is such a trying time, we probably won’t. Be generous with yourself and with your partner. You will get through this; it won’t last forever.

Sally LeBoy, MS, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com

Melanie Ricaurte

The stress associated with the Covid 19 is wreaking havoc on our world, our nation, and our relationships. 

To better manage the strain associated with Covid 19, there are several useful strategies you can turn to at home, with your partner(s), in order to maintain or strengthen your relationship during this time. 

Two of the most important strategies you can turn to are: 

  1. Structuring your time, and 
  2. Having a daily routine. 

Before going to sleep each night, or in the morning after you wake up, make time to talk with your partner about how you each plan to structure and organize your day. 

Set a time for each of your meals, and if both of you will be working from home, determine ahead of time 

  • who will be working where, 
  • when you will take breaks, 
  • how you plan to interact with and 
  • communicate with one another during the day, who will be responsible for what task or chore, and enter all of that into a daily planner. 

Then, have this be a routine you use every day, especially on weekends when you might not have work structuring part of your day. 

As part of this structure/routine, set aside specific times during the week that will be designated to connecting to other people in your life and to solitary activities. 

Then, consciously designate the time you will spend together as a couple, rather than going with the assumption you will be spending time together 24/7. 

Use the designated time as a couple to have quality time with one another.

Make it a date night, dress up, watch a movie, play a game, read or listen to a book or podcast together. Whatever you decide to do with your time together, have it be meaningful, quality time.

Melanie Ricaurte, PsyD, MEd – www.weareharmonyholistic.com

Dana Hall

With so much uncertainty around us and an ever changing landscape due to the Coronavirus; it can put a lot of strain on family and relationships. 

We rely on connection, autonomy and routine; however we find those very things are temporarily not present for the majority of us. These unprecedented times can take their toll on our intimate relationships. 

How can you ‘quarantine’ proof your relationship? 

These tips can help. 

Discuss Expectations. 

No one has experienced this new norm before. How do we pull together to make sure our emotional and physical needs are met along with the new household demands? This can put quite a strain on our relationship. 

Especially when we consider there exists a gender-bias in our role distributions leaving women generally picking up more of the household responsibilities. 

This is only amplified during our shelter at home/ quarantine restrictions. 

If you feel your relationship is lacking equity speak up. Sit down together and make a list of responsibilities and discuss as a team how best to accomplish the tasks. What can each of you bring to the table to ease the responsibilities brought on by the new norm? 

Establish Routines. 

Routines help our emotional health because they establish predictable events. It gives us structure and consistency which can ease anxiety. A routine also helps forge intimacy when couples support the general workings of the household dynamic. 

When we wake, have a meal together, take a walk together or just have a date night binge watching SVU-routines give us connection and something to look forward to during times of uncertainty. What would you look forward doing together each day?

Implement Protected Time. 

Protected time may seem contrary in that it means alone time without your partner; it is not. When we can step away to do some self-care we come back re-charged and ready to re-engage. Some people  require more time alone than others and our need for space should be honored as much as our need for connection. 

Especially when our interaction is limited to our home it is imperative we carve out time to read a book, take a bath, video call a friend or just take a nap. What can you do to honor your need for individual space each day?

Keep Connecting! 

Feeling isolated can lead to sleep impairments, lower immunity, depression and anxiety. It is important that you check-in with your partner on how they are doing. Schedule a virtual date night if you are not in the same home. 

If you are physically together have a game night, go for a walk, make sure you make an effort to hold hands, hug, and keep your intimacy alive.  

Many organizations are offering free viewings of plays, art exhibits, botanical gardens, and many others are offering free classes and/or lessons. There are plenty of creative ways to keep connecting together and with the [virtual] world. In what ways can I keep our intimate relationship a priority?

There are definitely things that we still have control over. 

One of those being not only how we choose to respond to our current situation but how we choose to show up in [and for] our relationship. We can use this time to come together and even heal aspects of our relationship that we may have overlooked. 

How you choose to respond to life’s challenges together can define the future of your relationship and your bond. 

Remember, after every dark night comes the birth of a new day together. 

Dana Hall, LCPC, MA, TF-CBT – www.danahalltherapy.com

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