Shelter-in-Place, Stay-at-Home Orders, Social Distancing and COVID-19 were all words or phrases that I had never heard of prior to March 2020. A LOT has changed in a very short amount of time and a lot of stress has been placed on relationships.
In normal life, relationships are commonly stressed by issues related to money, parenting, taking care of in-laws, insufficient childcare, lack of social support, poor self-care, and changes in physical health. One of these issues alone can cause a relationship to tailspin into frequent arguments, disconnection and distress.
All of these combined… well, that’s a whole new level of hard…
In times of trial, some relationships find a way to pull together, bonded over the shared distress. Others, debase into patterns of intense argument and disconnection. So why do some couples come through hardships stronger than ever while others struggle to stay together at all?
We’re about to find out.
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Generally speaking, most couples report that they or their partner are much more irritated, frustrated and fast to react to all frustrations. Small things get under their skin, and they feel as though their patience is dwindling. It is not surprising that people would feel more on edge during an unprecedented time of change. However, what is surprising is that fear, not anger is the emotion driving all the ensuing conflict.
In a matter of days, couples are now asking themselves:
- Will income change?
- Will I lose my job?
- Will my kids go back to school this year?
- How am I going to juggle school work with my own work?
- How will I stay healthy?
- What if I lose my mom or dad?
In these moments, frustration and even anger is a very understandable response. Who wouldn’t be angry in a time like this. But anger is not the primary emotion we are feeling in these moments. They are simply reactions to deeper, more vulnerable feelings.
The four most common emotions that drive us to feel frustrated or angry are the vulnerable feelings of: hurt, embarrassment, fear, and disappointment.
I don’t know about you, but expressing these emotions are not my favorite. It doesn’t come easily, nor does it come naturally. Most of the time I’d rather express how annoyed I am rather than how afraid I am that things might never return to normal.
The problem with this is expressing secondary emotions does not bond us closer to our partner. In fact, expressing these emotions often push us farther away.
When couples find the way to communicate their primary emotions rather than their secondary reaction, they have a unique opportunity to bond with each other.
Expressing disappointment or fear does not weigh down the relationship or cause increased distress. Instead it provides the couple an opportunity to better know the other’s inner world and offer support through expressing compassion.
Communicating vulnerable emotions causes healthy relationships to bond not break. Together we are better able to emotionally regulate, think creatively and face the problem head on.
Couples, you’ve got this. COVID-19 doesn’t have anything on your relationship. While this time is unbearably hard, I know you can come out stronger on the other side.
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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the lives of so many people physically, financially, and even mentally. For some people, this pandemic has intensified pre-existing emotions, and for others it has brought on new feelings and symptoms that may have never existed before.
A few years ago, I learned an interesting fact about sharks while helping my son with his first-grade research project. Some species of sharks never stop moving in the water – even when they sleep. This is because of the way they take in oxygen through their gills. If they stop moving, they stop breathing and ultimately drown. I was recently reminded of this fact of nature as I thought about the many clients I work with who were all in various stages of change when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Dr. Melissa Estavillo is a Licensed Psychologist and founder of Biltmore Psychology and Counseling. With over 7 years of experience, she specializes in both individual and couples therapy in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ. She integrates complementary methodologies and techniques stemming from Emotionally Focused Theory, Psychodynamic Theory and Other Evidence Based Practices to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each client.