A husband is an essential worker and has to leave the house. The wife is frightened and asks him to be mindful of his clothes and his efforts to reduce contamination on the household. He doesn’t feel stressed so he ignores her issues. He thinks we’re in the process of reopening and refuses to leave his shoes in the garage. Another wife refuses to wear a mask and doesn’t want to follow the grocery store guidelines while the husband feels anxious and irritated that the wife doesn’t follow rules. A wife discusses her fear of how long this will last and wonders how reopening will happen while the husband works even more than usual in the home office. The kids are being homeschooled and not sleeping, so mom is up even longer and still has less time for herself. Mom has to reheat her coffee so many times it has become a running joke. If she wants any privacy it’s in the bathroom, but even then the kids are knocking. All of this creates stress, whether you’re hiding in the bathroom crying, or feeling like you are handling it all pretty well, it’s going to have major consequences for all of us. If you are one of the folks saying you are doing fine, read on.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, more than half of adults in the United States report that stress or worry has caused them to experience a negative effect on their health. People are reporting problems with sleeping, eating, increased alcohol use, and worsening chronic conditions. A third of the country’s workforce has lost their job (35%) and four in ten (42%) have had a salary cut or hours reduced due to the coronavirus. According to this research, many adults are having difficulty paying their household expenses and many are falling behind in paying bills.
If you go out your door or watch the news you are likely to hear about the restless neighboring families and heightened tensions. Speaking of neighbors, mine was at Target waiting in line to go in (there is a quota to how many people can go in) and someone driving by yelled at them asking how they like the government now. My neighbor told me this from six feet away while I was taking my dog for a walk yesterday. Surely all of these events around us have to be affecting us, our family life, and our relationships, right?
It’s interesting to me that a lot of couples are stating that they’re doing fine. Some say they will keep their marriage counseling on hold until after the stay at home order is lifted to return to family therapy or even start couples counseling. I have began to wonder if everyone is aware of the effects that this crisis is having on them or will have on them.
Often, I have couples come into my office seeking help when it’s too late. Well, at least it’s too late for one person in the relationship. Usually in a separation, it’s one partner leaning out while the other is hoping a marriage counselor can lead them to reconcile. For some, the time is too late. I started to look into what happens to people, and more specifically couples after a crisis. I began wondering if some of the couples, or at least where one of them is suffering, are doing so alone. Maybe others are not even aware of the effects that this situation is having on their mental health.
Here is why this concerns me, do a google search or inquire with couple therapists or marriage counselors and they will tell you that money is in the top 3 things couples fight about. This will closely be followed by (not in specific order) children, chores, time, and intimacy. These are all issues being affected by the stay-at home orders. Yet in talking with colleagues, we‘re finding less people reach out for support from therapists even though there is available. This leaves us to wonder how couples and/or families are grappling with these issues.
For the ones enduring friction and conflict my heart is with them. I imagine them hunkering down doing their best. It’s like being stuck outside in the winter when your car is stuck in the snow and you’re waiting for someone to help. I’ve been really cold and waiting for something to be over. Have you ever had to get to your destination, walking in the cold and you can’t really feel your fingers? The only thought you have is getting through it. I imagine it’s like that with some of these couples.
The other situation is where the partners are not as aware of their problems piling up. It might be too late when they do realize. After this crisis is over people might realize that life is too short and with all the unaddressed problems they’ll decide to move on. As their partner, you will be left feeling confused and trying to bargain with them to stay and work on things. These are the folks I want to address now. I don’t want you to feel blindsided, but it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re aware of your stress and the state of your relationship.
So to the folks that aren’t aware of how bad it is. Did you know you can be stressed and not be aware of it? Being busier, hungrier, snappy, irritated, and/or fatigued are all symptoms of stress. I have noticed that so many friends and clients are complaining of being tired and unmotivated. Weird dreams and sleep issues are also high on this list of percolating stress! Some of the other more discrete, physical signs of stress are having a sore jaw, cold hands, or digestive issues.
All of this stress is sure to wreak havoc on even the healthiest couples, but what about the ones that I mentioned that don’t know they are heading in a negative direction? Unfortunately, those are the couples that, once the chaos settles, will be facing their relationship ending.
The good news is that you can train yourself to identify stress in yourself, in your partner, and in your relationship. You can become aware of the problems that can tear you apart before it’s too late. I can’t tell you how many times I have a man or woman in my office facing divorce saying, “I didn’t know he/she was so unhappy”. I truly believe some of them would have worked hard or changed if they had realized how bad things were.
Whether you feel like everything is fine or your mate is making your life harder, why not reach out for a therapy session or even take advantage of online counseling. One of the most important and often omitted traits of a good relationship is communicating about differences. It’s often referred to as conflict. Conflict is good and needed. Couples won’t agree on everything! They must have a way to discuss differences. Ask your partner how they are doing. Ask them if they know how the stress is affecting them. Listen to what is going on for them, even if it is different from your experience. If your partner is too busy or too distracted, tell them what you have to say is important to you.
Remember those couples from the beginning of this article, the one’s struggling with their partner’s reaction or lack of action? If those couples don’t do healthy conflict to work through and understand those differences, then those differences will turn into resentments. Resentments are like cracks in a frozen lake, a few are safe but the more you get and the deeper you go, the more unsafe the lake becomes. Like the lake, if the foundation of your relationship is full of resentments it will crack and break.
If you need help with identifying and managing your stress, your communication, or the differences between you and your partner, don’t wait until this is all over.
Right now telehealth couples therapy or counseling online is available even if you cannot do traditional face to face therapy. Use this time to create a relationship that offers mutual support and understanding through telehealth online counseling. If you are looking for the therapy practice that offers the marriage counseling session you deserve, call to discuss your situation or schedule couples therapy now.