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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

5 Tips for Keeping Your Relationship Alive During the Pandemic

Here are five morsels of advice for tending to your relationship and keeping it healthy.

1. Understand how your partner responds to stress...and how you do, too.
It’s often easy to assume everyone reacts to high-level stress in the same way we do. But you and your partner might actually have different coping mechanisms to mitigate pandemic-related triggers—and if those responses are vastly different, your actions stand to baffle each other unless you openly explain them.

For example, you might prefer to stay on top of breaking news updates, while your partner only weathers the larger updates as they come. Whereas you’d prefer to spend 30 minutes of quiet time in the morning drinking your coffee and getting up to speed on the news, your partner starts their day with funny videos or silent meditation. Neither of your responses is the “right” one; they are simply your respective ways of getting through the situation.

Being aware of what you both need to process stress can help you learn to grant each other the space and respect to honor those needs, without questioning their validity. Plus, as renowned relationship therapist Esther Perel points out, you can use these differences to balance your perspectives instead of exacerbating tensions.

2. Keep communication open and ongoing.
As scary as the pandemic situation is, it’s important to air your worries and fears. While your partner can’t be your sole source of support, they can provide solace about things that are concerning you.

If you and your partner don’t have the vocabulary for this type of open communication (or even if you do, but these trying times have rendered your emotional roadmap irrelevant), you can set the stage for mutual support by asking each other open-ended questions, like:

• What are you feeling today?
• How has this day been for you? How about the week overall?
• Is there anything I can do to be a better partner or source of support for you today?

One exercise from couples counseling, called uninterrupted listening, can help you deepen this type of communication. Set a timer for 3–5 minutes when you are able to talk freely about absolutely any stressor(s) on your mind. It could be work, your health, the health of your loved ones, your future, etc. Your partner can respond with non-verbal cues, but they can’t chime in until the timer ends. Then switch, and take your turn as the listener.

Working on building this communication may help establish what preeminent relationship psychologist Sue Johnson refers to as a “secure bond.” Such an attachment is formed with someone when we know they are emotionally responsive, and that they feel for and with us. It doesn’t mean that they’ll protect us, necessarily, or that they’ll do the labor of problem-solving for us. Rather, it means they’ll face our problems with us (not for us).

3. If you feel an argument coming on, pause—and plan to revisit it when you’ve both cooled down.
The upheaval in routine and living conditions can leave us feeling unsettled, and may trigger more arguments than we’d normally have.
If you feel a spat or full-blown argument coming on, plan to touch base again in at least half an hour and no longer than 24 hours later.

Go for a walk alone in the meantime, engage in a breathing exercise, practice self-compassion, or call a friend to check in. Revisit the argument when you’ve both had the time and (mental) space to cool down.

Above all else, avoid unleashing unfiltered criticism on your partner; along with contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, such behavior is considered by esteemed relationship psychologists John and Julie Gottman to be one of the “four horsemen” of the apocalypse for romantic relationships.

4. Go overboard with compliments and appreciation.
In these times of absolute tumult, many of us are craving kindness and comfort. The little niceties matter more than ever—meaning your small notes of appreciation will go extra far in keeping your relationship strong.
Be sure to thank your partner for the little things, like boiling water for your tea, making the bed, giving you an extended hug, or putting away the dishes.

5. Consider starting couples counseling.
The global pandemic has triggered distress and disconnect for countless individuals and couples. If you’re finding yourselves fighting more, seeing eye-to-eye less, or just generally experiencing a surge in tension, consider working with a counselor to help you get through this chaotic time.

Looking for Local Help?
To find an area mental health care provider, go to the website of the Redwood Empire Chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (
and click on Find a Therapist in the top banner. A limited number of therapists listed on the site are offering 3–5 free sessions for those in crisis during the pandemic. Find these providers at Also find local therapists on

Most counselors have begun offering online services, so you can get help now while having the option of switching to in-person sessions when the shelter-in-place ends.
Reprinted with permission from ZenCare,