These are certainly challenging times, and those of you in relationships may find yourselves experiencing obstacles you'd never before encountered — including the toll stress can take on you or your significant other. The effects of a global pandemic on your love life can leave you feeling overwhelmed and helpless when it comes to how to support your partner during COVID-19, but relationship experts say that there are some helpful ways to show up and make them feel heard.
You already know the effect stress has on yourself, not to mention how harmful it can be to your friendships, your sex life, and of course your romantic partner. Hopefully you've found a few healthy outlets for managing said stress, but what if your significant other hasn't?
Given the state of the world, you may notice that fears about health and finances — as well as simply the way you're spending time together — have brought some difficult emotions out in your other half. "Any stress is negative to a relationship and, unfortunately, we're all living in a time where we're experiencing more of it than ever before," says Rachel Thomasian, a therapist at Playa Vista Counseling and co-author of BreakUp & BreakOut. "Stress can show up as wanting to isolate, having a shorter fuse, not being in the mood for fun or to connect, feeling irritable, angry or sad — all of which are counterproductive to a healthy relationship."
And according to relationship coach Lee Wilson, many couples could find themselves in disagreements about how to navigate this uncertain moment in history, ultimately causing anger and resentment. "For example: Now that many places are reopening, one person in a couple might invite the other on a dinner date," he explains. "If the other person doesn't feel safe doing that yet, he or she might decline. Even though it had to do with a concern for safety, feelings of rejection are being reported to me by clients. Rejection can cause resentment, relational distance, and even anger."
If you're not quite sure how your partner is feeling, or whether they're able to process those feelings in a healthy way, there are some telltale signs. "Some signs to look for that might indicate your partner is struggling with their mental health are changes of habits in a negative direction," says Thomasian. "If they're sleeping too much or too little, if their alcohol intake has increased, if you notice their mood is low or their anxiety is high, it might be time for a conversation."
Seeking out therapy (for one or both of you) could be one solution, but whether or not you decide to get outside help, there are some supportive steps you can take if you notice your partner seems to be struggling. Ahead, find a few things you can do — per Thomasian and Wilson — that may be able to put them at ease and keep your bond in tact.
How To Support Your Partner During COVID-19: Let Them Know They're Being Heard
"Always approach conversations about mental health or concerning behavior from a place of caring," says Thomasian. "Don't assume something is a problem, invite them to talk about what's going on." The therapist suggests asking open-ended, non-accusatory questions like "What's your experience been lately with the added stress of current events?" or "How are you handling everything going on?"
How To Support Your Partner During COVID-19: Don't Skip Date Night
Date nights look a lot different these days, but Wilson explains that it may be more important than ever to prioritize the time you spend together. "Facilitate the planning of shared events worthy of anticipation, [like] date night," he says. "Maybe it’s movie night, a wine tasting, a shared bubble bath, karaoke, or something outside of your home if currently available/possible. Get input from your partner to ensure it is something they can look forward to with anticipation. Specific planning of the event is important so that time that should be enjoyed is not spent asking, ‘What do you want to do?’"
How To Support Your Partner During COVID-19: Celebrate Good News
"Sometimes it might be difficult to find, but when possible, point out the positives and encourage your partner that you two will get through this and be able to do the things you enjoy again that might be limited now," Wilson says. "Your partner might respond with negativity at first, so don’t contribute to it turning into a fight, but [try to focus on] making a positive contribution to your partner’s situation."
How To Support Your Partner During COVID-19: Take It One Day At A Time
It's all about baby steps in these overwhelming situations, according to Wilson. "Focus on taking things one day at a time — even one hour at a time," he says. "It’s good to anticipate good things in the future, but taking on too much of the potential negatives of the future will contribute to anxiety and poor mental health."