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3 Suggestions for Love in the Time of Covid-19

15 Apr Posted by in • Dr. Glenda Corwin | Comments Off on 3 Suggestions for Love in the Time of Covid-19
3 Suggestions for Love in the Time of Covid-19

For many of us, this is the most stressful time we’ve ever experienced.  A life-threatening virus has us sheltering in place, and we don’t know how long we’ll be here.  People are losing their jobs and “essential workers” are having to face this virus with inadequate protection.  If you’re sheltering with a significant other, you may get extra, interpersonal hassles.  

Unfortunately, stress can bring out the worst in people.  Irritability, snapping and pouting are rampant among couples who have too much togetherness. A young woman who lost her job and is living with her “essential worker” partner complained that “She just comes home and acts so irritated that I’m here…It makes me feel terrible.”  Then she added “I know she’s stressed out…” The snapping, combined with her own grief and anxiety about losing her job, piles on more distress. And it isn’t good for her partner, either.

This is a good time to talk about better ways to handle stress. There’s a widespread myth,  based on a hydraulic model of human emotions, that when pressure builds up in the mental pipes, it has to spew forth somehow.  Actually, current research indicates that spewing anger just makes it easier to spew more anger. Furthermore, guilt, resentment, and even despair often follow these blow-ups.

So what’s a better way to handle stress when you’re in a relationship?  Here are three suggestions from the marital research literature.

Practice a 5:1 positive:negative ratio in your interactions.   If you say one mean thing like “I can’t believe you did that,”  you’ll need to have five positives, like “Thanks for doing the dishes, being thoughtful, helping me with this, I love you, you look great, etc.”  Hugs and kisses are also positives (unless unwanted).

Marital researcher John Gottman provides plenty of data to support this as the optimal ratio in relationships.  But when I’ve told couples about the 5:1 ratio, most are surprised, even incredulous. “Who has time to do all that?”  This overlooks the fact that it uses up more time and emotional energy to recover from negative interactions than it would to just be nice in the first place.  It does a lot for your sex life, too.

Some people say “but I don’t want to just make up fake stuff to be nice.”  I promise you, if you put your mind to it you can find five positives that are completely true about your partner, on any particular day.  Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t have gotten together with her in the first place.

Practice intentional acts of kindness.  This is another form of practice #1, from a slightly different angle.  Research shows that one hour spent doing something altruistic gives you more lasting happiness than one hour of hedonistic pleasure.  Hanging out in hot springs feels really good while you’re there, but when it’s over, it’s over. An hour helping someone with the groceries, or housework, or quality listening gives you good feelings that linger.  You’ll remember doing it and feel good all over again. 

Being intentional means that you ask yourself regularly what can I do for her today that she’d appreciate?   Random sounds…too random.   May happen, may not. Just like in your sexual relationships, intentionality rules! 

Remember that you’re on the same team.  In a sexual relationship, you want to be on the intimacy team. Instead of  “Why do or don’t you do this or that,” as a team you can create a pro-sexual environment for both of you.  You can decide together what helps you get in the mood. Likewise, you can work together to create a positive, supportive environment during this time of terrible stress.

Obviously, neither one of you caused COVID-19, or made you shelter in place.  You’re facing this as a team, and you need to collaborate to have the best outcome possible.  Snapping, blowing up, pouting and other irritable acts do not facilitate good teamwork.   

There are many great suggestions for stress management in Epochalips.  Exercise, meditation, self-soothing statements like we’ll get through this and this too shall pass, drawing on spiritual resources that fit for you, connecting regularly with others with video chats.  There are many, many positive ways to bring stress levels down. Taking it out on your loved ones is not one.

Remember, when this is over, we’ll all have memories of how we got through this, alone or with a partner.  I hope your memories will include self-congratulations. It was really tough, but I’m proud of how we handled it.  And may you stay safe and healthy.

Glenda Corwin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same-Sex Couples. In addition to sessions in her private practice, she offers consultation and online programs for couples. For more information, please visit her website at www.DrGlendaCorwin.com

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