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Relationships can be tough to navigate—like, even in normal circumstances. But when you factor in a global pandemic that has not only plummeted the economy but also impacted the general well-being of many Americans, it’s no wonder you and your S.O. might be facing more stress, worry, and problems than ever before. Maybe even with each other.
And according to new data from Talkspace, there’s been a 48 percent increase in couples seeking therapy amid the coronavirus pandemic. This…isn’t all that surprising considering social distancing requirements have left couples either hunkered down in close quarters or newly navigating an LDR.
This crisis as it stands now has brought in all kinds of new stressors to a relationship that couples weren’t necessarily dealing with as seriously prior to the pandemic, like: economic concerns, loss of sense of purpose, loss of sense of self, and difficulty connecting with and/or disconnecting from each other, says therapist Rachel O’Neill, PhD, director of clinical effectiveness at Talkspace.
For this reason, you may find your tolerance and irritability levels increasing with the person you really didn’t fight all that much with beforehand. (But FWIW, “even the strongest of relationships are likely experiencing some difficulty adjusting to the stress of the current pandemic situation,” says O’Neill.)
That said, couples therapy can be an easily accessible option for many of you experiencing these kinds of feelings and thoughts amid the stay-at-home orders. Lots of apps and programs are even offering deals and discounts—like Talkspace, which just launched a virtual couples therapy modality for $99/week.
But if money is super tight between layoffs, furloughs, and/or alllll those expenses that seem to be piling up right now, you have options too. With the help from O’Neill, we’ve created a lil couples therapy cheat sheet for all of you who need it right now.
For couples living together…
1. Schedule—yes, literally put it into your iPhone’s calendar—at least 20 minutes a day to talk with your partner.
This is called intentionally communicating, and no, it’s not just having casual convo about the weather when you’re eating Thai on your couch. “I would love to see couples set aside 20 minutes each day to talk about how they are feeling and what they need from their partner,” says O’Neill. (If you really think about it, this is literally what therapy is like, anyway.)
Some pointers worth noting:
Focus on using “I am,” “I feel,” and “I think” statements. (The “I” part is a must!)
Avoid judgment. Try to focus on statements that are fact-based when discussing a problem.
Don’t put the blame entirely on the other person.
For couples living together: Let’s say you’ve noticed your partner seems ~obsessed~ with testing your sanity by leaving their dirty dishes in the sink, like, all week. Instead of saying “You always do this,” you could say, “This happened for the third time this week. I feel better when I live in a clean and healthy living space. How can we work on this?”
2. Schedule—again, literally put time in your iPhone’s calendar—at least 20 minutes a day for yourself.
“Physical space is really important and it’s absolutely okay to ask for it,” says O’Neill. And if it wasn’t obvious already, this is exactly the kind of thing you can mention in your 20-minute convo as mentioned above.
To the extent that you’re able to, go out on a walk by yourself, take time to journal, and/or listen to a podcast (I personally recommend any of these). It doesn’t matter what you do, just that you’re doing something by yourself for yourself.
Now if you’re wondering, Okay, but where the f*ck am I supposed to go in my tiny studio apartment for “space”? Hear you. Some options include: watching Netflix on the couch with headphones in while your partner does the same on the other end of the couch (weird but oddly satisfying!), taking a long shower or bath with your favorite Spotify playlist, or going outside if the weather is permitting.
3. Make sure your sex life stays A Thing.
I get it if you’re completely, totally unhorny right now. I can imagine how hard it is to think about boning the one person whose breathing is making you angry. But with that said, to whatever extent you can, try to maintain intimacy, recommends O’Neill.
Like the rest of the world, there’s a good chance you’ve been sporting greasy hair buns and sweatpants all day every day during the quarantine—so duh, ofc you maybe don’t feel like your hot-girl self. But how about being someone else for the night and trying a sexy role-play? One Cosmo writer has been living out her favorite shows’ sex scenes and it’s totally working for her. Also, pull out those old Halloween costumes. You knew they’d eventually be useful for more than that one time you wore them to a subpar Halloween party.
Obviously don’t feel like you have to focus on just the sex too. There are other ways to maintain intimacy, like lying in each other’s arms, cuddling before you go to sleep, and giving each other back and shoulder massages.
4. Even if you’re indoors, keep dating each other.
Sure, you can’t really leave your tiny home the way you used to be able to pre-pandemic, but you can definitely get dressed up to cook a new meal together, break out a board game, take an online exercise class together, and more, says O’Neill. Allow me to link you to the best indoor date ideas for you and your partner right this way.
For couples who are not physically together right now…
1. Tell each other that what you’re experiencing is [WHATEVER EMOTION] (read: painful, sad, hard, etc.).
Remember when I mentioned intentionally communicating? Yeah, same thing applies here. Schedule a 20-minute phone call or FaceTime per day where you can check in with your S.O. about what’s going on with their life, how you’re feeling, and the struggles you’re experiencing.
“Embrace the discomfort,” says O’Neill. “Use it as an opportunity to discuss how, as a couple, you can help support each other through this difficult time.” During this conversation, you should have their undivided attention, so make sure the TV is off, you’re not on speaker, and both of you are homing in on the other person’s thoughts.
2. Date from afar.
Look, everyone knows how important a physical connection is—but honestly, an emotional connection is the bond that keeps two people together. Take this as an opportunity to strengthen your ~emotional bond~ since you can’t be together physically.
Ask them questions like:
If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
If there is something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time, why haven’t you done it?
What roles do love and affection play in your life?
How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
And also, allow me to link you to some virtual date ideas so you and your boo can stay connected in all the ways.
3. Write handwritten letters to each other.
And whomst said chivalry is dead? “I love the idea of using written words to communicate during this time,” says O’Neill. And TBH, when it comes to expressing how you really, actually feel, nothing can beat a pen-to-paper love note. You can either write letters to your partner back and forth, or you and your partner can create a shared journal where you both write about particular topics each day of the week.
Like, maybe you decide on a topic of how you fell in love. Take 30 minutes to write the story in your own words, take a picture of the writing, send it to your S.O., and tell them to do the same. Spend some time reading how they saw it happen in their mind too. It’s like, the most earnestly cute thing I’ve ever heard of.
So there’s the tea, my friends. You could expect any of the above activities to also be recommended for you in an actual, IRL couples therapy session.
But please, please, please keep in mind that the topics included are very basic and don’t dive into a couple’s deeply rooted relationship problems. If you find that you are still struggling, sometimes dropping some coin is necessary to find the underlying issues. Your wallet and mental health will thank you.
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