Covid 19 is changing everyone. The stressors dealing with the reality of the pandemic are significantly changing families, marriages, relationships, and interactions between people in new ways. There are new awakenings happening in our society. Under Covid 19, people are living with the bounds of rigidity. This is causing a lot of fear and a re-examination of one's existence including marriage. People are reflecting on how happy they are, what they want, and what they can and can't tolerate. Emotions are running high.
Anxiety and Fear
People are feeling anxious, confused, restrained, frustrated, powerless, and limited in exercising their abilities. They struggle to live within rigidity. I hear every day how people and families are adjusting to the new man-made rules. They report fear, and anxiety of all sorts, and frustration which makes them unable to practice their innate power and move freely within the environment. This anxiety is impacting and awakening them to reflect on their relationships and marriages. As a psychotherapist, I am constantly witnessing the rise of various disorders in the mental health of people; their struggles, their fears, and their symptoms. All of these have been impacting their relationship as well. They have questions about their marriages and overall their lives. There is a major re-examination happening.
The reality of living with this virus has changed our world in addition to our relationships. Even kids and teens have had their share of adjusting to limitations of what they can do, how they are schooled, and where they can play. There has been a 30% rise in teenage suicide during this pandemic! Kids and teens had to give up much, they have given up hobbies, group sports activities, socializing with their friends, and much more. We have even heard that teens have ended their own lives. This is very serious.
The Effects On Relationships
Similar to September 11, 2001, which changed the world, this virus is also changing lives and people. As a result, relationships and marriages are changing too. The new practice of social distancing, covering our faces and changing our routines, and surrendering our freedom has certainly affected our mental health without a doubt. All these behaviors are due to fear; fear of the unknown, fear of death, and fear of many other things. Fear has played a pervasive role in our new lives under Covid.
Each partner is pushed to serious self-reflection on who they really are, what they really want out of their marriages, lives, and relationships. They are being pushed to examine their own existence, purpose, and meaning in life. The pause and the slow movement on the streets and communities are significantly impacting their mental health. The reality of mental health is not discussed most of the time, rather what is daily highlighted to each of us are the medical symptoms and how each person must behave. Meanwhile, people's mental health and their stressors are taking a huge toll on each individual and overall families in each home. Many adults simply roll out of their beds, and just move a few feet away from their beds to their computers for virtual (zoom or online) interactions on their computer screen instead of being in the presence of other human beings, and having face to face, eyeball to eyeball interactions. This new way of living eliminates grooming, dressing up, planning, and physically moving around. Without a doubt, over time, these habits will have a significant impact on their mental health because the current way of living is neither natural nor healthy for an extended period of time. We are approaching nearly a year now living with fear and restrictions. Many men and women report that their bodies are hurting from lack of movement and the current stressors. I constantly hear this comment from adult individuals or couples together.
This is a confirmation and another reminder that we were designed as relational beings. We have various needs. In addition to the physical needs, we also have relational, emotional, and spiritual needs. We are more than just bodies. Our bodies are very much connected to our minds (thoughts), our soul (feelings), and our spirit. We have been physically restrained from many important life-sustaining activities and have lost our freedom and flexibility for classroom-school, work, traveling, socializing, and more. I suggest it is imperative for humans to thrive in these activities and be with others in person; not on the screen. Many people feel alone in these experiences. They do not know how to talk and process their experiences in honest and vulnerable ways.
Also, for many marriages, this level of stress is similar to being in an emotional and relational war. Many may not know how to verbally express what is being stirred up inside their minds and souls so they are dealing with all these emotions, new experiences, and thoughts in silence. Now more than ever, we need to have the right skills to talk through these experiences with those who are close to us or are important in our lives. Many don't have these skills. We are not born knowing how to talk through these hard conversations. Most of us grew up in a home or environment where we didn't get to learn these skills and they were not modeled to us. This is a big issue in relationships as I have seen in my counseling practice. With the genesis of the new way of living in light of the Covid stress, either a person is pushed to withdraw, shut down or verbalize it somehow. During the last ten months, I hear from many spouses that he/she is pressed to draw closer or pushed further apart.
Living with change
The Covid-19 pandemic is introducing a new level of stress unlike any other. This type of stress is existential. There is a weariness with each person and marriage as a result. Our crisis is triggering a lot in each person. Weariness is driving our families to the brink of disaster; separation, divorce, and breaking up. How did you get there? Out of these pressures, people are wearied, hopeless, and anxious. The current stressors such as these either pull people and spouses closer to each other or away from each other.
Your ability to resolve and cope with all of this depends on your relationships and/or communication skills. Are you equipped with these skills? I'm constantly discovering that many don't have these relationship skills. When we don't know how to articulate in a vulnerable way in simple honest words what's really going on inside of us, we don't even know how to ask the questions that may help us to know what is going on inside of our loved ones (i.e. spouse or child). This presents a huge problem because we are in a crisis. Many feel tired, powerless, and stuck. In times of a crisis or a pandemic like this, it's imperative that we take different and new steps. I am highlighting this because no matter how strong and competent you are, you have needs. In addition to your physical needs, you also have emotional needs. Are your emotional needs met? Do you know how to ask for your emotional needs, especially from those who are close to you and those who love you?
Important steps to take! I want to give you a few simple and practice steps to consider and practice. You must be intentional, disciplined, and make time to have an honest dialogue with each other. Plan at least a 30-minutes a day checking in with each other several times a week if not daily. Make sure to turn off your devices for a short period of time and focus on the following. Make time and do the following and check-in either with your spouse or child/teen. By checking-in, I mean, ask specific questions and find out what is going on inside of the other person. Whether it's your spouse or child/teen, ask them open-ended questions. Stay silent - sit back and listen. Less talking and more listening. Once they have told you about themselves, do not give answers, do not come up with any solutions, do not solve the issue, do not explain nor fix anything regarding what they are talking about.
First, repeat back what you heard them say, then verify by asking them more questions to see if you got what they told you about. If you are feeling anxious or scared about some sort of a come-back answer, I like to ask you to put your fear aside and don't be timid in asking them more honest questions. Once you have a full picture of what is going inside of them, simply validate and empathize. You don't have to agree nor disagree with what they are saying. Ask more questions about what they are sharing with you. Validate their feelings and thoughts. Remember in order to do that you don't have to agree at all, it's not about your opinion. Say something like, "yes, you are right that sounds overwhelming" or "scary". Let them verbalize in their own way what's going on with them about the experience they are having. This is not a time for solutions and answers. This is your time to connect with their soul. Genuinely state and ask them to share with you about their reality - you can say something like, "tell me more." Sit back and listen. In coaching my clients with these steps, they have been reporting how surprised they are by their new findings!! They report a great amount of relief they all experience, and as a result, they feel deeply close and connected.
Many people are scared and feel timid to have hard talks because they think they should have the solutions for when is presented to them by a loved one. Sometimes people think that if they talk about whatever it is, the other person might feel worse. This is not true. In times of stress or crisis, we need our reality and experiences to be validated, we need to feel close and secure with those around us and those who matter to us. We need to feel understood, heard, seen, and connected. We must also know how to do that with each other. In this pandemic, you and your loved ones are important. This is one of those times that we need to draw closer to each other and feel connected as humans. This means as partners in marriage, and as parents, with kids/teens we need to see and know what is really going on in them instead of making assumptions. Don't be afraid to check in and ask honest and hard questions.
I'm a huge fan of having family meetings. Set times to have couples' meetings with your spouse or family meetings with your kids. Again, be intentional, turn off your phone and devices. The soul of your loved one is much important than any of your devices or staying up to date with what is the latest on social media! Think about this. I see so many individuals their eyes and faces down staring at their screens most of the time. Pay attention to the habits you have that are getting in the way of your love relationships. Get away from social media (which is toxic for it increases much anxiety). Set a time aside for these important interactions and structure it where you can meet each other's emotional needs. Social media is a non-human device. We thrive and grow closer to each other when we are in a person's presence. Set a time not only for important dialogues but also time to play and have fun with your partner. Do you remember the early phases of your dating days?
You may be good at meeting others' physical needs such as food, clothing, etc., but your soul and your relationship also need nutrition. How much effort and time are you spending to give or receive nutrients for your soul and your relationships?
Do you know how to be present with your spouse? Are you paying attention to your style of listening? Do you listen by simply talking to them, without really checking in to see if you have a full picture of what is going on inside of them? The worse thing you could do is to have an answer right after they have shared their thoughts, feelings, or experiences with you. Less talking more listening. Focus on getting more and more information. When a person is hurting, they really don't care what you think. They need soothing and feeling understood and loved by you. You can respond to their comments or questions, only if they are asking you for your perspective or asking you for a solution.
Another observation I have made is that depending on the history of your marriage, this pandemic and our way of living has flared up marital relationships. For example, if you have been someone who has felt neglected or alone in your relationship, or if for the last few years (7-20 years of your marriage) have been withdrawn or operated as an emotionally self-sufficient partner in the marriage, you no longer can stay silent or put up with how you have been living thus far
I often tell people, when you're having communication problems, do not wait for long to get help. You can't do this alone. You can't be on the surgery table without surgeons, nurses, and an anesthesiologist, helping you to repair, recover, and heal. We are not meant to do life and face the stresses of life alone. Many times, I hear the following comments: "I'm not sure if I can do this anymore", "I'm not sure if I want to be married anymore", "I don't know who I am and I'm trying to figure things out, so I want to move out", "I really need to get away from you and everything to find out who I am." Sound familiar?
When two partners are together in marriage or in any relationship, it is imperative that they know how to stay connected as the years go by. This is why many times two people grow apart because as they grow and change, they don't have the tools to stay connected with each other.
If you are that couple or that individual who sees himself/herself above, please don't wait any longer. You may have waited too long. Get the right help from a professional who can help you. Make sure that the professional you find is the right fit for you who can help you grow and get clarity. Remember as relational beings, we are not meant to do life alone. We hurt in relationships and we also heal in relationships. Get help no matter what age you are or how long you may have been married. It's never too late to grow and heal.