Stress eats into relationships. It puts us all on edge, leading to less understanding and more arguments. Flare ups are bound to happen. While inoculations aren’t available, there is some relationships advice that can help people cope. Like giving one another the benefit of the doubt more often. Or being specific about the language you use when having an argument. Or making sure to vocally appreciate a partner half more often. Here’s some relationship advice all stressed out parents should keep in mind.
1. Set Boundaries
We’re all more or less jammed into the same space right now. This is unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean we have to be on top of each other all the time. Sit down and discuss lines of demarcation. Designate a work space for one another. Give yourselves the spaces you need to be productive and active without crowding them. If this means sitting in the car to make calls, so be it. We’re all making due.
Importantly, however, these boundaries must also apply to when you’re giving your attention to your work and when it’s time for family. Let your spouse know that he or she is still a priority by putting the phone down and closing the laptop when work is through.
“When you work from home, it’s easy to answer emails first thing in the morning and late into the evening,” says therapist Eliza Kingsford. “For some, this is fine as it creates flexibility throughout the day at other times. But be aware that it doesn’t start to consume your days.” Frustrations will certainly occur. Take note and make changes as necessary.
2. Get Intentional
According to Dr. Susan Mecca, author of The Gift of Crisis, one of the most important steps we can all take during any crisis is to stop and say to yourself: Who do I want to be during this and how do I want to act? Creating this intention, she says, helps keep yourself in check. Are there going to be times when blow up when you want to be calm and measured? Absolutely. We’re all human. But if we make this intention and share it with a spouse or someone else it can be help you get back on track. “Planes don’t fly in a straight line. They’re always changing course,” says Dr. Mecca. “So as a parent you’re always going to be readjusting. But if you don’t know your course, you don’t know what you’re readjusting to.”
3. Schedule Alone Time
We all need time to ourselves to destress or just zone out for 20 minutes. The need is even more so now. This means we must all schedule time to go outside, be alone for a minute, or do whatever is needed to mentally recalibrate. Without doing this, we’re much more likely to snap at our partners or put more emotional stress on them.
In busy households, this need can only be made clear through proper communication. Couples need to sit down and discuss this. What time do you need? When can we set that time in the schedule? It’s also important to be understanding of your partner’s need for the same. Therapist Ben Hoogland, MS, LFT says it’s crucial for couples to not be passive or resentful towards someone asking for alone time. So schedule that alone time. And if your partner is being reluctant, offer to take the kids or set up something for them that forces them to take some moments alone. Everyone needs it.
4. And Schedule Time as a Couple
Right now, it’s can be easy to feel like roommates or co-workers instead of romantic partners. Couples must be sure to take measures to recognize this side. Order in from that place you like. Take a long walk together while the kid is asleep in the stroller. Watch an old movie you both love. Schedule a Zoom class together.
5. Give One Another the Benefit of the Doubt
When stress is high, it’s very easy to misinterpret someone else’s completely normal actions. A good rule of thumb: When you’re communicating with your partner, give them the benefit of the doubt. “You’re both dealing with increased stress and unpredictability, so it’s likely that your partner isn’t actually trying to annoy you or act selfishly — they’re probably genuinely overwhelmed and not thinking as clearly as usual,” says Jessie Bohnenkamp, a licensed professional counselor in Virginia. “If you need to bring up an issue, focus on the specific behavior that’s bothering you rather than criticizing your partner’s character or personality.”
6. Set Aside Time to Vent
In stressful times, it’s easy to forget to touch base with one another. Not a good look. So be mindful and set aside a specific time at the end of every day to talk about what’s happening. Bohnenkamp says that during this scheduled time each partner gets ten or 15 minutes to talk about whatever’s on their mind — work stress, worry about their parents’ health, money concerns, whatever. The other person simply listens, validates, and supports (“No problem solving unless specifically asked for!,” reminds Bohnenkamp.) Then, it’s the other person’s turn and roles are reversed. “This time to come together and support each other is a wonderful way to stay on the same page, reduce each other’s stress, and stay connected and strong during this stressful time,” she says.