Going through ups and downs in a relationship is only natural, especially after more than a year of navigating life during a pandemic. Whether it’s increased stress, juggling kids’ schedules at home, or too much time cooped up together — new challenges are putting a strain on our connections with those we love.
Lyndsey Waters, a marriage and family therapist at Kaiser Permanente in South Sacramento, California, said it’s important to address any negative aspects of your relationship before they start to affect your physical and mental health. She shared 5 effective ways to handle challenging situations and help keep your romantic relationships happy.
First things first, acknowledge that a lot of things have changed as a result of the pandemic. Understand that your expectations of your partner may need to shift, and vice versa. “Have a conversation about how to support each other in ways that are realistic,” Waters said.
It’s smart to set guidelines for the amount of time you spend together. This can make both of you less irritable and your time together more meaningful. For instance, some couples choose to spend mornings on their own and evenings together.
As time with other friends and family has significantly decreased, it’s common for people to look to their partners to fulfill all their emotional needs. However, this usually doesn’t work, and often strains the relationship.
“Fulfillment should come from many different people and activities in your life,” she said. “It’s healthy to develop a hobby independent of your partner.”
When arguing, couples tend to unearth the past, which can spiral into out-of-control emotions and resentments.
“Now is not the time to get into your deepest relationship challenges,” Waters said. “Stay focused on one issue and then revisit that larger conversation when you’re able to manage it.”
If the argument gets heated, take a break. Go for a short walk separately or do some deep breathing. De-escalate the situation before it becomes volatile.
Start with small acts of appreciation for your significant other. Take the dog for a walk if your partner usually does, or say something nice to him or her. Focus on one thing you can do that will help improve the relationship.
If you set goals together, make them achievable.
No matter the state of your relationship, it’s always important to prioritize time for yourself. Try to do something daily that you enjoy: read, garden, or watch a favorite TV show.
“It’s enjoyable activities that help us stay centered,” Waters said.
Taking care of yourself also applies to physical health. Making healthy choices about food, exercise, and sleep positively affects your mental health. When you feel good, it’s much easier to be there for others when they need you.
Feeling depressed and anxious is understandable during this challenging time. Connecting with friends and family can be a great support to help you cope and allow your healthy self to resurface.
“Call friends, parents, or other people for strength,” Waters said. “Use mental health resources, such as digital tools, or schedule a video visit with a therapist.”
Above all else, Waters advises practicing compassion for yourself and your partner.
“Doing your best will be good enough during this unprecedented time.”
Learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s wellness resources.