MENTAL HEALTH

Is your partner stressing you out?

Spending more time together because of the pandemic can create more stress in a relationship. Local mental health expert
Spending more time together because of the pandemic can create more stress in a relationship. Local mental health experts suggest establishing clearer boundaries and more of a daily routine can help. (Adobe Stock)

The pandemic has changed our routines drastically in 2020. From so many canceled activities and vacations to children going to school online — and many adults working remotely, too.

All of these changes have added up to a lot more time spent at home — with fewer outlets to relieve stress — which is causing a strain on many relationships.

The pandemic is “underlining things that were probably there before that maybe hadn’t gotten attention,” said Nancy Vermeersch, a licensed counselor and therapist in Cedar Rapids. “Now, couples have more time to focus on some deeper issues because they’re not as busy,” she said.

According to marriage and family therapist Nick D’Amico, in times of stress couples will usually turn toward each other for support or against each other. It’s important to take stock of your relationship and be aware of how you’re responding as a couple.

“We are all adjusting to the new routine and new ways of doing just about everything in life,” he said. “Change is really, really hard for a lot of people, and this has been a whole bunch of change,” said D’Amico, who is also chief operations officer at Covenant Family Solutions that has clinics throughout Eastern Iowa.

“We are working differently. We are parenting differently. We are shopping differently. Our kids are going to school differently. Everything is different, and that is uncomfortable for a lot of people,” he said.

At Cedar Rapids Relationship Center, therapist Kiley Remington says that while their practice normally sees an increase in clients this time of year due to the stress of the holidays, requests for appointments have been steadily rising most of the year.

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She attributes this to the increased amount of time that couples are having to spend together which has led to more conflict.

“We might be seeing more things that bother us on a day-to-day basis” Remington said.

Putting your partner first

Keeping your relationship with your partner healthy starts by making it a priority.

For example, if a couple has children, it’s important to not become too focused on one’s role as a parent.

Working to improve your relationship with your partner can also improve your own mental health.

“We often assign ourselves value and worth based on our relationships,” D’Amico said. “So when we have healthy relationships and we have good connections, we usually feel better about ourselves. When we don’t have those, it’s easier to get down on ourselves.”

Vermeersch points out that stressful interactions with one’s partner can increase cortisol production which can make one feel more depressed and lead to sleep issues, which can both lead to even more mental health issues. “It’s a very vicious domino effect,” she said.

Consider these tips from local mental health experts about how you can strengthen your personal relationships:

Establish boundaries

If you and your partner are both working from home, try to establish your work schedules and work spaces to be considerate of each other. For example, wait to do chores around the house outside of work hours if it might bother your partner’s work. Establishing a daily routine also helps maintain a sense of normalcy.

Find a healthy outlet

Most people have lost the social outlets they used to enjoy: lunch with friends, working out at the gym or other activities that got them out of the house. We need to replace those outlets with healthy alternatives.

“Finding healthy replacements for the activities or the hobbies or the outlets that we lost is important for all of us as individuals but also for all of us as spouses so we don’t take that stress out on each other.”

Be patient and kind

“One of the biggest things that we are working with couples on right now is just remembering to be kind to each other,” Remington said. “It sounds so simple, but we forget to increase these little interactions of kindness that can really strengthen that bond with our partner.”

It could be as simple as taking the time to notice and appreciate when your partner does the dishes or asking if they need anything when you go to the kitchen or to the store.

Practice self-care

Taking care of yourself — getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising regularly — will help you have confidence in yourself.

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“If you’re not handling your own self well, you can’t really give much to another person or you may not even be able to receive love back from them if you’re so wound up, stressed, and don’t believe in yourself,” Vermeersch said.

Consider keeping a gratitude journal or set aside quiet time for meditation or prayer.

Take time away

If you notice your irritation levels rising, go for a walk or go for a drive just to get out of the house.

“We’re not really on lockdown, we can go places and do things safely,” Vermeersch said.

Help is available

If you find yourself being critical or defensive, arguing more, not wanting to spend time together or showing signs of interest in other people, these are clear signs that your relationship is in danger.

According to Remington, checking in with a couples therapist should be thought of like a yearly visit with your physician, because “if we can get to the root early before things develop, like contempt for each other, we can prevent major problems down the road.”

Couples also may need to reframe how they view this time.

“Sometimes, when you feel like you’re in a crisis, if you look at it positively, it can be an opportunity for personal growth and maturity,” Vermeersch said. “Sometimes in the busyness of life or when everything’s going perfectly, we don’t grow and learn as much.”

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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