7 Ways Couples Can Become More Connected During COVID-19
If you’re living and breathing you’ve felt the impact of COVID-19. How has it affected your most important relationship? Have you grown closer and become more connected? Or has it been a struggle? Have you been biding your time, thinking life will return to normal soon? And with that, your relationship will magically get back on track. At the time of this writing, it looks like we’ll be living with this for some time to come. Rather than sacrifice your relationship, let’s look at some ways couples can become more connected during COVID-19.
As a full-time couples therapist I am intimately aware of the challenges and benefits of sheltering at home. Seeing couples at home via the Zoom platform gives me a real-time look at how couples have been coping with the challenges of home-schooling kids, working from home and missing so many out-of-the home activities.
Couples are starving for restaurant food. Long and shaggy hair is no longer adorable. Internet happy hours and hangouts lost their appeal after a couple months. Online church in your boxers, masks, social distancing, online school and endless dog walks…they’ve all grown old.
COVID-19’s toll on relationship
The couples I work with had relationship challenges before COVID-19. Sheltering in has been a magnifying glass on pre-existing relationship problems. Sometimes this makes existing problems worse.
There have been reports that divorce rates are at an all-time high. The Wall Street Journal noted in an article that “Marriage Rate Plunges to Lowest Level on Record.” This is the lowest rate of people getting married since the federal government began keeping statistics in 1867.
Other problems like domestic violence are threatening the safety of many people in married relationships. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/when-lockdown-is-not-actually-safer-intimate-partner-violence-during-covid-19-2020070720529
There is no doubt that COVID-19 continues to take its toll on marriages and lifetime partnerships. The reasons for this seem apparent. Pressures associated with job loss, and families sheltering in can cause damaging arguments and behaviors that wear couples out.
In spite of the challenges, many couples are finding that sheltering in is actually making their relationship stronger. Some couples are using their sheltering in as an opportunity to face into the problems that have been eating away at their relationship. They are realizing that they can become more connected during COVID-19. That they can become stronger than before.
So what can we learn from these couples who are using COVID-19 to make them stronger?
A lack of emotional connection is a problem that eats away at most relationships. When couples don’t feel emotionally connected they fight about nearly anything, including the burned toast.
Emotional connection is the foundation for intimacy. Couples become unhappy when they stop doing the things that keep them emotionally and intimately connected. Sheltering in during the pandemic is helping many couples to choose to close what I call their intimacy exits.
Intimacy exits are any form of behavior that a person uses to bypass getting loved and cared for in their primary love relationship. Many good things – working out, golfing, friendships – can become substitutes for having quality conversation or intimate touch with your partner. Other unhealthy behaviors like affairs and addictions are intimacy exits.
People use intimacy exits when they don’t know how to communicate their needs. Many people grew up in families where the healthy expression of emotion is poor or nonexistent. After new-love emotions wear off, these adults do not have a voice to express the longings of their emotional hearts.
Other couples use intimacy exits because they have been deeply hurt by their partner. They use intimacy exits to avoid talking about the source of their hurt. This results in their blowing up when they are triggered by things that often have nothing to do with the original hurt.
How we are wired
There is no replacement for being loved and cared for by the person you care about the most. We are biologically wired to pair bond with one safe person. We expect this person to meet our deepest needs and desires.
When this exchange is absent we suffer from profound emotional pain. Our immune systems are compromised, as well as our physical and emotional health.
Since the health of our primary love relationship is so important, why not use the lessons of sheltering in as an opportunity to create a new loving life together?
Are you ready to close your intimacy exits and make lifetime love the reality you have dreamed of? Here are 7 ways couples can become more connected during COVID-19.
1. Become more connected during COVID-19 by closing the most destructive intimacy exit
The intimacy exit that is most destructive to lifetime love relationships is affairs. They often create betrayal trauma that can make it feel like the hurt partner will never forgive. They are a secret time bomb that can go off at any time and blow up the most established relationships.
Affairs can be physical and emotional. Emotional affairs happen when any person becomes a more intimate or trusted confidant than ones lifetime partner. This can happen with a same sex friend where no thought of sex exits. We sometimes refer to these as bro-mances and wo-mances. It can be a golf partner, a sister or another mother that can have more of our attention than our actual partner.
Why not use sheltering in as a way to stop having inappropriate affairs? It is best to come clean with your partner, ask for forgiveness and a new start. And you may need professional help to have those conversations.
2. The feel better solution that doesn’t work
Addiction often is a cover for deep loneliness, hurt and emotional disconnection. It’s a turn-key feel better solution that you can run to whenever you need it. It is also a trap that will progressively isolate you and destroy your health.
Humans have the capacity to become addicted to many things. Drugs and alcohol are the most obvious. Sex, gambling, food, video games and work can be just as consuming.
The way out of addictions is universal. Admit you have a problem. And seek the help of others that have been successful in recovery. There are recovery groups for all the problems listed above and more.
And of course there are therapists who specialize in each of these forms of addictions. They can provide the safety and direction you need to let go of addiction and turn toward your partner.
3. Get help with financial problems
If you’ve been struggling year after year with financial problems, it is time to get help. You may need a therapist to be able to talk through and resolve spending differences. Maybe you need help setting up a budget. Or you may need a financial planner for more complex issues.
One of the biggest challenges is arriving at a common vision for how to build a financial future. Then having the resolve to keep communicating about and sticking to the path you have set in motion.
COVID-19 has created financial uncertainty for many people. At the same time it’s helping couples understand what they can live without. This is a good time to pull in the purse strings and do a financial reset.
4. Become more connected during COVID-19 by creating healthy separation from unhealthy relationships
Families and friendships can be life giving and life draining. Many people have dysfunctional relationships with friends and families. This can become a trap that makes becoming healthy difficult.
Without disowning your friends or family you can create healthy boundaries that will allow you to break free of limiting or dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors. You may have a habit of drinking too much or simply being too negative in some relationships. Sometimes families argue and put each other down. You may have dreams to transform yourself that some of your close in relationships do not think you can accomplish.
Sheltering in during COVID-19 can give you the space to break free of spending many hours in relationships that are not helping you to grow. You can establish your own healthy relationship culture.
5. What about the kids?
Dual career parents and parents with blended families often struggle with being on the same page with parenting. Co-parenting takes time and requires effective communication.
Parents need to take the time to communicate so they can be united on parenting decisions. Parents should never disagree in front of the children. They should seek out parenting decisions that help them discover how to help their kids to be emotionally transparent and desire to keep the peace.
Sheltering in can become a time for parents and children to learn to know each other. The frustrations of not going to school can be turned into a deeper parent-child emotional connection. COVID-19 can be a time where couples can grow closer to each other as well as to the kids.
6. Create intimate couple time
True intimacy is not about spending lots of money on dining out and being entertained. Learning how to live a more simple and connected life is the key to lifetime love.
Use your sheltering in time to notice how your partner is feeling. You may feel differently about wearing masks or how you’ll stay connected with those outside your household. Support each other and keep talking till you can get on the same page.
Spend more time in bed holding each other. Spend time in the back yard just talking. Go on walks and hikes. Try to discover new things that you can do together. Couples can grow closer during COVID-19.
7. Grow your spiritual practice
If COVID-19 is teaching us anything it’s that life is uncertain. No one would have thought that in this day and age that a small virus could bring us to our knees.
Getting in touch with the reality of uncertainty can deepen your spiritual practice. It can help you learn to trust, as they say in AA, in a power greater than yourself.
Try taking alone time to meditate and pray. Spend time listening to worship music. Or listen to inspirational spiritual talks. Use this time to really pay attention to small things in life that remind you that you are not alone. That your life is precious and has purpose regardless of the challenges you face.
Spiritual intimacy is a secure foundation that will support your intimate human relationships and will help you face life’s uncertainty without fear and despair.
Couples can grow closer and more connected during COVID-19
None of this has been easy. And for those couples that have stayed connected and even grown closer during COVID-19, it’s not been without intention.
This pandemic has destroyed lives, businesses, economies and jobs. It has heightened fear, insecurity, denial, anxiety and depression. It’s changed political views. We’ve become scientists and statisticians, finger-pointers and tattle-tales (Karens). Most of us have really had enough COVID.
But what about connection? Please don’t give this virus the power to disconnect you from your partner. I’ll be honest. Many couples I see in therapy are struggling. But other are fining connection. There are definitely ways couples can grow closer during COVID-19. Are you ready to regroup and make it happen?
I’m Dr. Michael Regier, a Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor in San Luis Obispo, CA. I help couples within California deal with the challenges of COVID-19, learn healthy communication patterns and create emotional connections for lifetime love. My wife Paula and I co-authored the book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love.