Hanging by a Thread or Throwing in the Towel: Relationships and COVID


Nine months… that is how long some of us have been working from home with our spouse, managing the economic stress of the pandemic, homeschooling children, worrying about family members, social isolation and re-negotiating household roles.  It is no wonder that people are wondering if their relationship will last.  Whether you are hanging on by a thread or ready to throw in the towel, this blog post is for you.

Hanging by a thread:

If your relationship is experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and conflict, you are not alone.  Here are some suggestions that might help.

  • Be curious, not furious.

Listen, ask questions, try to understand your partner’s point of view even if you don’t agree with it.  Don’t try to talk about a difficult issue when everyone’s emotions are heightened because we know that no one thinks clearly when their “fight or flight” response has engaged.

  • Let go of the little things.

You know, those minor irritants… toothpaste caps left off, singing in the car, or anything else that your partner does that gets on your last nerve. Try to ignore or reframe them so they don’t irritate you as much.  For example, when you go to put the lid on the toothpaste for the millionth time, use it as an opportunity to cue you to take 5 deep cleansing breaths.

  • Beg, borrow, trade or buy time for yourself.

In other words, get some time to yourself however you can!  Trade free nights with your partner, especially if you have children or pay a trusted COVID-safe sitter.  This is harder during the pandemic for lots of reasons but leave the house if you can.  I remember going to the dentist once.  They apologized for the appointment taking so long and I told them as long as no one called me “mooommm” while I was there that I was good.

  • Ask for what you want and need.

No, your partner cannot read your mind.  It is not true that if your partner loved you, they would magically know what you need.  Banish that thought from your head.  It is false and it can only lead to disappointment.

  • Diversify your support.

This goes right along with asking for what you want.  No, your partner cannot meet all of your emotional and social needs and it isn’t fair to ask them to.  If you need help building a support network, seeing a therapist is a good place to start.

Ready to throw in the towel:

If you think you are done, I encourage you to get some emotional support to help you through the process.  Separation and Divorce are difficult in the best of times, but these are not the best of times.  You can get couples counseling (to help figure out if you want to continue trying or to help you transition peacefully) and individual counseling.  Both will help you figure out your path forward.

Talk your plans through with a trusted friend or family member, consult an attorney or attending a free legal clinic like the Wake County Second Saturday Divorce Information Sessions.  As we established earlier, our brains are not at their finest when we are in the middle of a crisis and it is useful to have someone else help us think through things.

No matter where you are in this process, it is adding stress to an already stressful environment with COVID.  Be kind and forgiving to yourself.  You are only human and already dealing with a lot.  Be well.


About Author

Lisa Allred

Work Life Program Manager

Lisa Allred comes to SAS with a long history of working with families throughout the lifespan. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Wake Forest Universtity and her Masters in Social Work from UNC-CH, her career began as a child therapist focusing on parenting, anxiety and trauma. She then moved into college counseling where she emphasized student wellness and balance.

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