Couples in the Time of COVID-19: Creating a Safe Harbor
Miranda Breit, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Certified sex therapist
Certified marital and family therapist
CMG – Piedmont Psychiatric Center
This is an extraordinary, unprecedented time – one of uncertainty, unpredictability, and skyrocketing anxiety for some. Many couples are finding themselves in confinement within their homes, sometimes with children, no work, and no end-date in sight. This can be a recipe for disaster as anxiety and tensions are high. Bickering, fighting, small annoyances, and aggravations can multiply.
Couples can choose to make this a time of unity – a time to make your marriage a safe harbor. One in which both are free to express fears; where small grievances are overlooked; where each partner understands that tempers are short because of underlying fear and anxiety. You can choose to give your partner a pass, to listen without judgment or trying to change the other’s mind, to be a best friend, a place of comfort and support.
What if you disagree about the severity of the problem or the degree of “shelter in place” that should be practiced? One person believes it is a high-risk situation where staying home is essential; the other believes it is hyped up and no worse than the flu. Michele Weiner-Davis, author of Divorce Busting, advises this is not time to disagree or try to change the other’s mind. Instead, couples need to agree to disagree. However, err on the side of safety, she advises, and take precautions even if felt to be unnecessary by one spouse. No one knows the whole truth in this pandemic, so err on the side of caution. The less-worried partner can give the gift of safety to his/her partner.
Recognize that increased irritability and low patience are normal in such extraordinary times. Therefore, try to discuss the underlying issues, rather than the surface complaints. Be curious about how your partner feels and listen without judgment or advice giving. What are the fears? The worries? The feelings? Be there, present, and interested. Share. A safe harbor provides shelter from the storm.
If needed, schedule a telehealth visit with a marital therapist to help provide a route to your safe harbor.