“Our kids are home from school during the COVID-19 outbreak, and I feel like I’m trying my best to entertain them and keep them from feeling worried about what’s happening in the world. But my husband is not helping at all—he can’t get out of his own head. He’s anxious about not being able to go into work and fearing for his job security. How do I talk to him about how I am overwhelmed, too, and want to find a middle ground where we can both be there for our kids and each other?”
As you stay busy with the kids, it seems your husband is spiraling. Not only is this bad for his mental health, but it’s bad for your family—you also deserve the time and space to be in your feelings. You have to pass the hot potato, meaning he can’t dwell in his fears forever, and he also has to allow you time to experience your own anxiety in these uncertain times.
In this instance, talking might not be the best way into your husband’s psyche. He’s already overwhelmed. Instead show—don’t tell—him that you are stronger together. Here’s how.
Establish your own new routines
It can be overwhelming to set your own routines. Without the boundaries of an office—no one looking over your shoulder, no physical meetings, no regularly planned watercooler chats—it’s easy to fall down a funnel of COVID-19 news or household chores instead of getting to work.
If your husband is struggling to forge his own routine, lead by example: Show him your schedule, no matter how crude (e.g., 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.: Get up, shower, eat breakfast. 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Distance learning with the kids.) You can even enforce an hour-long break to make lunch as a family. Your example is the unspoken blueprint for him to follow.
Switch off childcare
With that in mind, I’d suggest switching off childcare duties. Even if he doesn’t have a schedule yet, you can put it on yours to reel him into a bit of normalcy. When you explain to him why this is important, keep it about your experience, using “I feel” statements (e.g., “I feel overwhelmed as the person running 24/7 childcare.”) This way, you’re not demanding him to change, which may add to his anxiety, but you’re stating what you need. For instance, you might land on an arrangement where you take on daytime duties—getting the kids up and ready, making lunches, planning activities—and your husband spearheads nights. (How you split the time is up to you, obviously.) But see what you did there? You passively helped your husband carve out a routine.
Get active with your children
The more active your husband can be, the better he will feel. Staring at a screen all day will only cause more angst, mentally and physically. Invite him to engage with your kids through activity. If you have a yard, encourage him to take the kids out to play (with social-distance rules in place, of course). Kick around a soccer ball. Ride bikes together. Take long walks and catch up. In fact, you should even put family activity time into your schedule.
Treat yourself to me-time
You and your husband both need to take timeouts for self-care. Do the face mask in the middle of the day. Indulge in your entire hair and makeup routine. Break out your stash of chocolate and a glass of red wine after dinner—the one that you ordered in from your favorite restaurant.
Similarly, encourage your husband to do things that make him feel better. What helps him relax? Maybe that’s a nice shave, working on his car, going for a run or even taking a midday nap to recharge his battery.
Now is when you really need to carve out time for positive mental health practices. Make it a policy between both of you that you’ll do your best to help each other manage stressors. It’s absolutely possible. But it’ll have to be a joint effort.
Jenna Birch is a journalist and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a relationship-building guide for modern women, as well as a dating coach (accepting new clients for 2020). To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.