Relationships in a time of COVID

Parent putting a mask on a childBy Jaimie Hutchison, MA, LPC

For many, the pandemic has shrunk our circles of support. For others, it has magnified our family and couple time adding lots of togetherness. Our relationships outside of our homes have been stressed due to being isolated from one another. This is a huge shift in how we interact. How are your relationships going?

When the stay at home orders were first in place, I was hearing from Spartans that it was nice to have some more time together with their spouses/significant others and children. Many noted that there were a lot of family meals, and time together as a family. In April, I started receiving an increased number of requests for counseling resources, addiction resources, abuse resources and divorce resources. Over time, I saw this trend continue. For some, the extended time together without much relief, illuminated cracks in sometimes already strained relationships.

According to Susanne Choi, a sociologist at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, “the high-pressure environment of confinement, combined with the financial stress brought about by a Covid-19 burdened economy has led to a rise in marital conflict.”  China, the first country to manage Covid, has seen an unprecedented number of divorce requests. Family violence has also increased threefold, which has also been reported in many countries across Europe.

Reflecting on everything families have to navigate: How to implement social distancing measures, how to find childcare for their children, or in home care to monitor on-line schooling, who takes up the increase of household responsibilities, how to manage a reduction in income, how to balance work and caring for children in the same space, how to stay in touch with elder family members, political tensions, racial injustice, and so much more. And all of that is on top of whatever pressures couples and families were facing before the pandemic.

It is not all bad news. A marriage app in China reported a surge in the number of marriage licenses applied for. So, what do we do if we are experiencing difficulties in our relationships?

First, you are not alone. Although we are far more physically isolated, there are resources available. You can contact the MSU WorkLife Office confidentially for resources available through campus or in the community. Second, you can reach out to the Employee Assistance Program ( to inquire about counseling or for counseling referrals. 

Finally, you can think about things that you can do to strengthen your relationships. Here are some ideas that may help. 

  1. In cases of abuse or decreased mental health, seek help. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you are experiencing abuse, there are resources to help. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has many resources that could be helpful. On campus you can reach out to MSU Safeplace.
  2. Maintain self-care and have a routine. We know that by maintaining a schedule, and focusing on health basics like sleep, nutrition and exercise, we can reduce our stress levels and provide a comforting schedule for your brain to follow, reducing uncertainty.
  3. Be kind to yourself, your partner, and your children. Have compassion for yourself and those around you. This isn’t easy and kindness and grace go a long way. 
  4. Keep the workday limited. Work to set boundaries to keep your work and personal time separate. It is easy to let work flow into personal life, particularly if you are working from home. 
  5. Don’t alienate your loved ones. We are all tired and sometimes feeling isolated zaps our energy, but set times to connect with the people you love-even virtually.
  6. Beware of substance use and abuse. Increased stress can aggravate habits such as smoking and drinking. Keep an eye on your substance use. People in recovery may need to be vigilant because normal support groups may not be available. Look into virtual meetings and reach out to the people who are there for you. 
  7. Go outside together. Nature has healing properties. Get outside, get some vitamin d, walk and take in the sights and sounds of nature. There are many places you can go outside and still physically distance like local nature centers and parks.
  8. Carve out time for alone and togetherness. This can be easier said then done, but ensure you have some time to yourself to do what you like to do and balance that with family time and couple time. When you are well, you have more to give to others.
  9. Work together to keep children occupied. Caretaking often falls more on mothers. Work together to divide the childcare duties. 
  10. Split up housekeeping duties in a way that makes sense. Everyone in the household can contribute to keeping things running. Be intentional and set up a schedule and division that works for everyone. 
  11. Broaden your support system. Remember dinner with friends? Trips to visit family? Chatting with coworkers? Do you miss that? I bet they do too. Find a way to connect with the positive others in your life by holding a virtual coffee hour or going on a distanced walk. 
  12. Carve out time to talk. With so much to manage many feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Now, more than ever, it is important to talk to each other and check in on what each person in the relationship needs. Things have changed, and we need to be as flexible as we can to adjust to them.
  13. Talk about your feelings. Overwhelmed, burnt out, isolated, stressed, exhausted, forgetful, anxious, depressed, how ever you are feeling is ok. You are not alone, and by talking to a trusted other about your feelings, you will be able to process them better. 
  14. Plan something fun. What do you love to do? How can you build that into the current situation? It is critical that we keep laughter and joy in our lives. Having something to look forward to helps to shape our mood. Whether it is ordering in a nice meal, planning a trip to a local park, renting a new movie, or playing your guitar, do something you enjoy. 
  15. Make plans for a relationship in crisis. If your relationships are fairing ok, or if you are starting to feel the pressure, talk about it now. How will you handle it if things start deteriorating? By planning for steps you agree on before a crisis, you will be prepared for what comes next. 

If you need resources or referrals or do not know where to start, reach out. You are not in this alone. I hear you, I see you. This is complex and each person has there own struggles that are unique to their situation. These 15 tips are not meant to be a fix, but rather a starting point for strengthening what many of us have been reminded are the most valuable things in the world, relationships with the ones we love. 

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